SOUTH SHORE — A new community organization held its first cleanup of 75th Street Sunday morning, as neighbors hope to spur investment in South Shore’s business corridors by investing their own time and energy.
Neighbors with the South Shore 7th Ward Community Council power-washed buildings, picked up trash and performed lawn care along the corridor for hours Sunday.
Streets and Sanitation employees, Chicago Police officers and Ald. Greg Mitchell (7th) set up at 75th Street and Clyde Avenue to assist in the cleanup effort. Masks, food and water were provided.
Nearly 60 percent of storefronts on 75th Street in South Shore are vacant, as are nearly half of the shops on 79th Street.
A community-wide effort is needed to attract “viable businesses” to those properties, said Jera Slaughter, organizer of Sunday’s cleanup and chair of the council’s 75th Street subcommittee.
Slaughter called on friends, neighbors and city officials to assist, organizing the cleanup in less than two weeks. She and the community council also presented Mitchell with a wishlist of services for the corridors’ vacant properties, including a youth center, a grocery store, health care providers and retail.
“I can’t tell you the last time anybody has attempted to clean this area,” Slaughter said. “It’ll take us all to pull this back together. We want to be able to invite businesses here, but it can’t be so dirty.”
Dates for future cleanups haven’t been confirmed, but the goal is to continue until 75th Street is beautified from Jeffery Boulevard to the lakefront, Slaughter said. The council will also oversee 79th Street cleanups.
Even as the commercial corridors struggle, residential areas to the north and south of 75th Street are well taken care of, said Ingrid Ermon, who lives a couple blocks from the cleanup’s staging area with her husband Russell.
Residents need to invest the same effort into the neighborhood’s business corridors and public areas as they do into their own homes, she said.
“South Shore, first of all, is a beautiful neighborhood,” Ermon said. “75th needs to reflect that.”
Community involvement can attract investment to South Shore while discouraging gentrification, said Richard Steele, a retired Chicago radio personality and Slaughter’s husband.
Residents are concerned “people with money will come into the neighborhood, buy up everything and — if you’re still here — raise the price of everything,” Steele said. “That’s a reality. It happened in the Grand Boulevard area. … We’re trying to avoid that now.”
The potential impact goes beyond the neighborhood, too. 75th and 79th provide all Chicagoans with access to the south lakefront, and will be “gateways” to the long-stalled redevelopment of the former U.S. Steel South Works site once that’s completed, he said.
Neighbors taking control of their community “speaks louder than me,” Mitchell said. He vowed to take his marching orders from actively involved residents and work to return South Shore’s business corridors “back to where [they] used to be.”
“It’s about the presentation; we want to present our corridors in the best light possible,” Mitchell said. Developers and city officials “tell me point blank: ‘We want to see that people are committed to the development of the community.’ This right here shows the commitment.”