By ALD. PAT DOWELL (3RD)
In a recent guest column (“City Owes CHA Residents What It Promised Them,” Hyde Park Herald, June 24, 2015), Jay Travis called for elected officials to “deliver on the promise” of replacing homes formerly located in Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) high-rises with affordable, new replacement units on the same land, before moving forward with commercial development projects. Travis rightly points out that it would be “irresponsible to imply that a desire to see replacement units built means sacrificing commercial development opportunities.” In other words, we should resist making this a contest between residential vs. commercial development interests; both are essential for any rebuilding plan to be successful.
As an elected official and professional urban planner, I am relieved to know that Travis does not mean to pit residential and commercial interests against each, merely to caution that families waiting for replacement homes are not forgotten as some commercial development projects move forward. I agree. Smart urban planning is a balancing act. It means finding just the right development projects for the community. It means choosing projects that make sense for the future of the community.
It’s important to press the CHA for delivery on its commitment to submit a plan for public consumption that lays out its plans for replacement housing. So let’s work on that together. It is after all, up to the CHA — not elected officials — to determine when and where any replacement housing goes. But don’t poison the well of good will against the specific development projects that have already begun, like Mariano’s or XS Tennis, which Travis mentioned specifically.
Mariano’s committing to build a new store in the footprint of the former Ida B. Wells housing project is a huge win for our community. Since coming to Chicago and filling the void in the marketplace left behind by Dominick’s, Mariano’s has contributed more jobs, consumer traffic and sales tax revenues than were generated by its predecessor. The construction of this new Mariano’s location has the added benefit of providing well-paying community construction jobs and contracting opportunities. Additionally, Mariano’s decision to build on 38th Street and King Drive has prompted much needed development interest from potential investors hoping to capitalize from their presence.
The XS Tennis and Education Foundation complex being developed on two blocks of former Robert Taylor Homes property will deliver many of those same benefits and is exactly the type of re-invention the community needs. The development will provide both a safe haven and positive educational and athletic enrichment for at-risk adolescents and teens throughout our community.
I only hope that community organizers will continue to work with elected officials and supportive interests to protect the interests of homeowners as well as displaced housing residents, while making smart, informed choices about the mix of affordable and replacement housing, commercial development and educational opportunity needed to complete our rebuilding. Collectively, we have to focus our efforts on transforming the State Street Corridor and Ida B. Wells sites into vibrant, safe communities that encompass the greatness of what Chicago represents.