In October, the Chicago Tribune challenged readers to participate in drafting a New Plan for Chicago. The big idea was based on Daniel Burnham's famous Plan of Chicago. "Make no little Plans."
On Sunday, the Tribune outlined reader and editorial proposals on How to revive troubled neighborhoods. The editorial tasks people to reimagine Chicago real estate.
According to the Tribune, over 700 proposals were received. Everything from creating urban gardens and farms to the creation of dedicated commercial strips.
The New Plan for Chicago sparked the creativity of ordinary citizens, who live, work, or travel through our city.
There was one glaring omission. Political leadership.
It takes political leadership to revitalize neighborhoods, especially the vast swaths of vacant former commercial, industrial, and manufacturing blight dotting the city. It takes aldermen, state and federal legislators, a mayor and governor.
Chicago is a tale of two cities. Neighborhoods which prospered, reinvented or repurposed and neighborhoods like Lawndale, where dreams go to die. Lawndale has been devoid of political leadership for decades.
Elected officials maintain neighborhoods like Lawndale in a state of blight. For some strange reason blight is preferred.
Lawndale is a tale of two neighborhoods, North and South.
North of Cermak Road lies poverty and acres of idle vacant properties, land and buildings. Properties once used for manufacturing, commercial, and retail enterprises.
South of Cermak Road lies prosperity. The Little Village and Heart of Chicago (Parts of Greater Lawndale) neighborhoods thrived and are still thriving today. They are engines of economic development, enterprise, and opportunity.
Drive down Cermak Road, 26th Street/Blue Island, Western, Damen, or Ashland Avenues. Small and medium sized businesses abound.
Once derelict or vacant properties have been replaced with commercial enterprises, many servicing retail businesses locally and nationally.
What is the difference between the north and south Greater Lawndale? Poltical leadership.
North of Cermak Road politicians allowed economic deprivation. South of Cermak Road, political leaders unleashed economic development.
Politicians who represent Lawndale, north of Cermak Road did nothing for over 40 years, except get elected and worse, reelected. Getting elected and reelected is their only jobs plan for Lawndale.
Politicians get elected, go to City Hall, Springfield, or Washington. They forget the people they leave behind. The only time people see them is over the holidays, when they hand out turkeys, hams, and groceries, or during election cycles, when they try to stay in office.
Politicians control what happens to neighborhoods, especially aldermen. Politicians control the zoning, creation or elimination of blight, state and federal economic development funds, the creation of enterprise zones, and a host of major and minor issues that make or break neighborhoods. Issues that make or break people.
While politicians, business people, and planners reimagined and repurposed other Chicago areas, the political leadership of Lawndale, Englewood, and other blighted neighborhoods did little or nothing.
They allowed Lawndale and others to sink to the bottom and stay there. They are responsible for the only economically viable businesses in Lawndale, politics and crime, especially drug sales. They are also responsible for the mayhem and murder drugs cause.
Politicians have the power to revitalize poverty stricken and blighted areas in Chicago. The myriad programs are in place. The programs just have to be taken advantage of.
That takes leadership. Leadership is woefully lacking in places like Lawndale.
It is not a matter of can't. It is a matter of won't. Politicians, from aldermen, Illinois legislators, federal congressmen, and senators, will not do anything to develop these areas and improve the lives of people living there.
Politicians willfully and woefully ignore reality. Neighborhoods like Lawndale are goldmines of opportunity. Economic development programs were created for Lawndale and other neighborhoods. Activists, planners, and others spent time and money putting these programs together. The programs died quick deaths. No politician would back them.
There is something very wrong with politicians who keep people in poverty instead of helping to create prosperity. There is something very wrong keeping acres of land vacant for decades, especially when government had the power of eminent domain to eradicate blight.
There is something very wrong when politicians allow neighborhoods to remain wastelands.
The politicians who represent Lawndale and other blighted neighborhoods failed.
It takes leadership to change Chicago. It takes leadership to change neighborhoods.
Lawndale has no leadership. Lawndale lacked leadership for decades.
Lawndale is one of the neighborhoods Chicago politicians forgot.
Filed under: Uncategorized