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South, West Side neighborhoods get $250 million boost for transformative public space

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A new neighborhood planning division will guide projects

A row of greystone houses in Chicago.
Greystone homes in Bronzeville.
Photo by Carmen Troesser

A $250 million investment will kickstart improvements to streetscapes, public transit, parks, local business corridors, and affordable housing in 10 South and West Side neighborhoods.

The initiative, which blends both public and private funding, is the first comprehensive, targeted strategy to improve the South and West sides, said Chicago’s newly appointed Commissioner of Planning and Development Maurice Cox on Monday at the announcement.

“One thing very clear: This is not going to be a planning exercise. I’m a planner, I love planning, but I love action a whole lot more,” he said.

The plan will initially focus on 10 neighborhoods which include: Auburn Gresham, North Lawndale, Austin, Englewood, Humboldt Park, Quad Communities, New City, Roseland, South Chicago, and South Shore. This fall, a series of conversations led by the Department of Planning and Development will guide the proposed priority corridors, areas of investment, and implementation of existing community plans.

“The idea is to focus those funds, to focus like a laser on the areas that are most walkable and most viable within those communities,” Cox said. “So that residents can see the changes from their homes to the stores that they shop in, to the services that they need in their neighborhoods, to the train stops and bus stations, to the parks where their children play, and all of the arts and cultural institutions that can be lifted up.”

Over a period of three years the initiative, called Invest South/West, will use $250 million in existing grant funding from DPD’s tax-increment financing (TIF), Small Business Improvement Fund, and the Neighborhood Opportunity Fund (NOF) programs to support the neighborhood projects. BMO Harris Bank has also committed $10 million to the initiative.

This funding is on top of $500 million in infrastructure improvements already planned including track upgrades to the CTA Green Line, the Auburn Park Metra Station and a new track and field facility in Gately Park.

“This is finally going to aggregate, overlap, and amplify public and private investments that will allow us to go far greater in community-based coordination,” Cox said. “I believe private investment follows public investment. We intend to unleash the private sector—they will know where the city wants them to go. I think that level of coordination will have a catalytic impact.”

Similar to how Cox operated in Detroit, there will be a lot of community engagement and involvement throughout the entire process. The city will work with residents, community stakeholders, and local aldermen to prioritize meaningful projects in each neighborhood. The Department of Planning and Development is in the process of creating a new neighborhood planning division, and there will be a local advisory panel for each of the 10 communities.

These panels will be visible and accessible, Cox said. They will have residents, business leaders, and city representatives who will be a voice and resource for the neighborhood throughout the entire process, he said.