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Community Renewal and Development Conference April 2004. The Past of Urban Renewal, the Future of Community Development

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A report on the April 9-10 2004 Conference

by Gary Ossewaarde

"...the mother of all interdisciplinary problems: How to create successful communities."

A very diverse crowd assembled over two days for a series of workshops, addresses, and panel discussions with audience challenges at a Conference convened by the University of Chicago and many study, advocacy, and developer groups, under the auspices of the Division of Humanities and Cityscape Inc. An extraordinary address by University President Don Michael Randel was but one of many highlights.

A special panel discussion opened the program Friday evening. Alderman Toni Preckwinkle (4gh), former alderman Leon Despres, and professor Arnold Hirsh (Making the Second Ghetto) discussed the course, purposes, and problems from Hyde Park and greater South Side urban renewal and building of Chicago Housing Authority from the 40s to the 70's, and what has replaced them.

Alderman Preckwinkle emphasized the present and the difficulties of bringing about then managing massive infill redevelopment at at time when CHA is tearing down structures but barely providing replacements, funneling residents into just a few neighborhoods, and bringing in mixed-income housing. She recounted how hard it is to get the city to mandate affordable housing and that the resources to reconvert the infrastructure of former high rise compounds into a grid for "normal" neighborhoods is almost gone, having been used up in Oakland. She praised the University's new initiatives and help in neighborhoods to the north and encouraged more.

Arnold Hirsh recounted the uphill battle for inclusion (including racial) in early public housing and how the Eisenhower Administration systematically frustrated this until a disaster was made. He and others pointed to popular urban design models that contributed.

Leon Despres described the causes and course of urban renewal in Hyde Park and the mixed record and influence of the University. Highlights are in Urban Renewal Period page.

Saturday morning wide-ranging workshops were held on Chicago's affordable housing crisis, Designing affordable housing, and Creative community intervention-practicing critique and practicing solutions. (responding to gentrification and immediate contexts while bridging neighborhoods), City-wide coalitions and politics around balanced development issues, and Community investment and the wealth gap.

In the afternoon, President Don Randel addressed the State of the University in the Community. He said that universities had always practiced an inward-directive, non-engaging strategy that had increasingly especially in modern society failed communities and reduced the ability of universities to carry out their mission. He admitted the University's approach was often misguided or worse. He described revival of the South Side as "the mother of all interdisciplinary problems: How to create successful communities...If we don't get it right, we won't get another chance for at least another 50 years and we will all live to regret it." Every aspect of life has to be engaged, he said. While the University can do even more on many facets--even several tasks that belong to others, such as policing--and can and will convene parties to study and act--and must do so quickly, there is much that is beyond the University's capacity. Although some sharp questions were asked of Mr. Randel, most were highly impressed with his command and commitment.

Two panels and a summary followed. The first panel discussed Economic development: How can communities bring prosperity to people as well as places. (This was followed by some very strong critiques from audience activists.) The second was on, Can architecture and the organization or use of space contribute to unsettling long-standing socioeconomic patterns? (Judging from the talks, there are good practices coming on line but the constraints make them almost impossible to put into practice.)

A likely outcome: a series of cross-neighborhood convocations. A resource network consortium for arts organizations and providers is already being set up by the UC Division of Humanities and Smart Museum. A conclave is being held later this fall. See the Cultural Resources page and www.uchicago.edu/artscouncil.


Learning from the "terrible mistakes" of Urban Renewal

Hyde Park Herald, April 14, 2004. By Mike Stevens

In an effort to avoid past mistakes, University of Chicago President Don Michael Randel called last weekend for increased university involvement in surrounding neighborhoods during the ongoing redevelopment of the Mid-South Side.

At a crowded Saturday afternoon lecture at International House, Randel offered a plain-spoken assessment of the university's role during Urban Renewal and outlined a vigorous--but vague--"engagement" policy in neighboring communities' redevelopment.

At the heart of Urban Renewal was the idea of the university in retreat, according to Randel. "holding at bay the outside world. And that's exactly what this university did [in the '50s and '60s] when it thought, rightly or wrongly, that it was under some kind of threat. Lower the gates. Raise the drawbridges. Dig the moats deeper, maybe spread a little scorched earth around the place. So as to protect yourself from what was seen as a threat on the outside."

Now, the demolition of State Street corridor's miles of public-housing high rises and rising property values are the basis for the South Side's redevelopment. But Randel warns the development opens p the "mother of all interdisciplinary problems: How to create successful communities."

"If we don't get it right we won't get another chance for at least another 50 years and we will all live to regret it," Randel warned. "We have to tackle this great set of issues and get it right."

While the university is already involved in neighborhood schools, policing and real estate, Randel offered two new ideas.

Arguing that the university's gothic architecture evokes ideas of exclusion with street side stone walls hiding well-manicured inner quadrangles, Randel said future architecture should instead "engage" its surroundings.

He also hinted at a time when the $5 to $6 million currently spent on policing from 39th Street to 64th would be redirected toward scholarships.

"The university ought not to be in the police business, we ought to be spending that money on much more valuable things...one of them would be giving scholarships to poor kids," Randel said, pointing out that universities nationwide "desperately under represent the poor."

"We are at a moment at which extraordinary transformations are under way across the entirety of the city," Randel said. "Having lived through a history of 50 years or so, in which we would all have to agree terrible mistakes were made, we are now at a moment when we might bed able to get it right."

After he spoke, residents offered praise and looked for specifics.

"I have been at the university, around the university since the time of Arthur Holly Compton [late 1940s]... Your extraordinary statement...far surpasses anything that I have heard from a [U, of C.] president in all those years so that I hope it will be remembered as the beginning of a new [era] for the university," said Hyde Parker Jay Mulberry.

Bronzeville historian Timuel Black celebrated the sentiment of Randel's speech but called for more details. "My concern is, as watching good intentions float forth...how will those get implemented>" Black asked.

Bronzeville residents Bernard Loyd and Harold Lucas partook in the question and answer period following Randel's lecture. Loyd called for the university to reconsider its relocation of the Checker board Lounge from 43rd Street to its property on Harper Court.

[In Friday's panel, Alderman] Preckwinkle praised Randel for his ideas for t he university's South Side role. "Randel has made big changes in its efforts to be a better neighbor...Previous presidents were not interested."