SOUTH SHORE — South Shore residents have brainstormed for years how to fix disinvestment, health disparities and violence in the neighborhood while planning for an equitable future.
Now, they have a clear agenda for the community in the form of the South Shore Quality-of-Life Plan, which sets a vision for the neighborhood’s growth over the next five years and beyond.
The plan tackles eight “issue areas”: resident engagement, economic development, education, housing, community stewardship and beautification, health and wellness, arts, culture and entertainment, and public safety.
“South Shore needed a quality-of-life plan or a strategic plan. We’ve needed it for years; there were a few attempts, but we never really got an opportunity to follow it all the way through,” said Val Free, lead steward of the Neighborhood Network Alliance.
“Now we have that opportunity and that’s because it came with resources to keep people at the table, keep them committed and keep them accountable.”
The South Shore Compact oversaw the plan alongside nonprofit LISC Chicago, which has helped create 29 such plans since 2000.
The compact includes the Neighborhood Network Alliance, which led resident input; the South Shore Chamber, which organized business leaders; and South Shore Works, which organized nonprofits and other neighborhood institutions.
“We had all three arms of a community at the table,” Free said.
The plan was released in mid-October after two years of work. If implemented successfully, it will promote wealth-building, protect the natural and physical environment, improve homeownership rates, support the creative community and much more amid a turning point for the neighborhood, leaders said.
“We as a community are coming together and taking ownership to collectively envision what this new South Shore is going to look like,” said artist Dorian Sylvain, who co-chaired the arts, culture and entertainment committee.
“We’re trying not to tread water. We’re trying to come up with plans and ideas that are attainable and keep the eyes on the prize,” Sylvain said.
To read the full quality-of-life plan, click here.
What’s In The Plan?
The quality-of-life plan “centers residents hopes, dreams and aspirations in every aspect of life,” said Jaime Arteaga, program officer for LISC Chicago.
Strategies such as providing skills and jobs training, improving neighborhood public schools and increasing homeownership access for Black residents can develop the community without displacing neighbors, Arteaga said.
The creation of community investment vehicles, which would allow for residents to share ownership in neighborhood projects, are a key aspect of the plan, Free said.
One citywide example is Benefit Chicago, which was launched in 2016. Individuals can invest as little as $20 to the project, which loans and invests the money raised into social-impact businesses and nonprofits.
“There are so many different models” of community investment, and residents are meeting with investment companies to determine what’s best for South Shore, Free said.
The plan also promotes worker cooperatives, housing cooperatives and local ownership of commercial properties to ensure residents benefit from the neighborhood’s growth.
The South Shore plan takes an “asset-based” approach, Arteaga said. It focuses on what the community has to offer, rather than portraying “doom and gloom” over what the community still needs, he said.
South Shore struggles with issues from the disproportionate impacts of COVID-19 to community violence and a housing market which threatens to push out renters and condo and co-op owners.
But the community is also full of neighbors and institutions working to address these issues and more, and the plan promotes ways to support and grow them, leaders said.
“We wanted to be careful in how we framed the challenges the community was facing,” Arteaga said. “South Shore has a lot of assets — primarily the folks that live, work and play in the community.”
Most issue areas in the plan include “focal projects,” or major development ideas which could improve residents’ quality of life in numerous ways.
Some, such as the Inner City Entertainment complex planned for 71st Street and Jeffery Boulevard or the Thrive Exchange Invest South/West project, are already in development.
Others were drafted through the planning process, including a 30-story, mixed-use high-rise at 7162 S. Exchange Ave. The project would reuse the long-vacant land — formerly home to the Food Exchange supermarket — for a transit-oriented housing development while attracting new retail, supporters said.
Another development idea is a nonprofit arts incubator and gallery, which would bolster South Shore‘s already–thriving creative community, Sylvain said.
“After high school, a lot of opportunities really are not available to young artists,” Sylvain said. “The Marwens of the world, the SkyARTs, [the Firehouse Community Arts Centers] — they touch a lot of people’s lives, and we need those things to be local.”
Other project proposals include a cooperatively owned grocer, a youth leadership and sports complex and an “intergenerational peace plaza.” None of the focal projects are guaranteed, but they are being unveiled to the public to gauge community support, Arteaga said.
“We don’t see this as an endpoint,” Arteaga said. “We’re hoping folks will see this and have a strong reaction to it — ‘I love this idea and want to step up and support this,’ or, ‘This isn’t the right idea, here’s some ideas we have.'”
The “healthy lifestyle hub” in Auburn Gresham, the Woodlawn Park development, the Bronzeville Mariano’s and the Casa Maravilla senior apartments in Pilsen are examples of completed projects with roots in their neighborhoods’ quality-of-life plans.
Though the city’s We Will Chicago plan is similar in intention and format to the quality-of-life plans, neighborhood-specific priorities aren’t reflected in the city’s roadmap, organizers and city planners said.
South Shore neighbors will nevertheless ensure city officials respect the community’s needs and desires as the We Will plan moves forward, Free said.
“The city is going to recognize the quality of-life plan for South Shore, because the organizations that led it came from South Shore,” she said.
Keeping neighbors engaged with the plan — and with community organizing as a whole — will be key to the plan’s implementation, supporters said.
Publicizing the plan is a call to action, Arteaga said. Annual plans, which identify next steps neighbors can accomplish toward achieving the plan’s goals, will be developed around each of the issue areas.
“The more people we have at the table, the more we can swing in the direction of people’s desires,” Sylvain said. “Do we want to focus more on housing, focus more on renting spaces, focus on educating young artists in principles of entrepreneurship? Probably, all of those are true.”
Neighborhood leaders need to engage all residents in the coming months and years, not just those who have already contributed to the quality-of-life plan, Free said.
Organizers must build personal relationships with low-income residents, people with housing vouchers, neighbors without internet access and other harder-to-reach populations, Free said.
It’s a heavy lift, but it’s one that’s necessary to ensure equitable growth in South Shore, she said.
“An organized community gets what they want,” Free said. “Get organized. That’s where the power is.”
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