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The Biggest Urban Renewal Flubs: UIC Campus

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In this special Curbed series, we're going to line up three nominees for biggest urban renewal flub , and on Thursday we'll put it to a readers' vote. It's hard not to be partisan in making our selections, but some criteria may help. Most of these standards should be met: 1) Significant fracturing of community 2) Social engineering gone wrong 3) Extreme concentrations of poverty and/or crime 4) Wasteful land use 5) Undemocratic planning process. Up first: The UIC Circle Campus:


[Photo by flickr user Steven Vance/creative commons]

When the land loosely bounded by Halsted, Taylor, Ashland, and the Eisenhower was stripped clean to make way for the new UIC Circle Campus, 200 businesses and 800 homes were displaced, uprooting more than 5,000 people. The campus of Jane Addams' Hull House, which at its peak served over 1,000 women in need, was whittled down to the Hull House itself and a single dormitory: sore reminders of the site's vital history. Hemmed in by clumsy University fencing and signage, the Hull House is now a lonely time capsule, mystifying by context. Yes, the area was gritty. And yes, after four decades, some displaced businesses have returned and the University's student population is bringing a noticeable economic boost to what remains of Little Italy. But what remains is only a few square blocks of the old neighborhood fabric centered on Taylor street. The area, by some estimates, was once 85% Italian. Now it's negligible. A certain degree of population dispersal and invasion/succession would have happened anyway, but this federal urban renewal-funded plan was a blunt and catastrophic assault on the neighborhood and was fiercely opposed. The opposition took their case to the courts, only to get stymied by the Supreme Court. Alas, no one was quite willing to give their life to a bulldozer.
The east (circle) campus, by Skidmore, Owings, & Merrill, is monumental and accommodates 27,000 students. Passing through it on foot is a challenge. It has the pastoral, rural feel of a land grant university with no frame of reference. Except, it plunked itself down in one of the oldest, densest parts of town. Adding insult to injury, pieces of cleared land at the periphery of the campus were intended to attract residential development, not to house university facilities. But it wasn't until 1976 that the first development took hold, a small townhouse complex by Joseph Cacciatore & Co. According to The Tribune, a recession slowed further construction, and it was not until the late 80s that it accelerated again. The University Village/South Campus mixed-use project along Halsted has sewn together chunks of neighborhood most recently, but the area is still pocked with vacant land. Forty-six years after the opening of Circle Campus (simply UIC since the '82 merger of East and West campuses), the area is still recovering.
·Circle Campus: 1965-1982 [UIC]
·Still more townhouses for UIC area [Trib archives]
·Urban Renewal [Encyclopedia of Chicago]