Bronzeville- Chicago’s Historic African America Center

The Bronzeville neighborhood is an expansive one with a bit of fuzzy boundaries. I used the southern boundary to be both 51st St and 43rd St., the northern border at Pershing Rd, the western I-90 and the eastern boundary is College Grove and the lakefront parks. I thus included the southern half of the Oakland subdistrict and all of Grand Boulevard.

Originally the Grand Boulevard neighborhood hosted many of Chicago’s elite establishing stately homes along the lavish boulevards (MLK and Drexel Boulevards). It wasn’t until the 1890s that the neighborhood began to transform into an extension of the expanding Near Southside African-American community. By the 1920s Bronzeville was the site of Chicago’s version of the Harlem Renaissance, and home to many famous African-Americans. Black-owned newspapers, restaurants, clubs, theaters, and other businesses “the city within a city” were founded on and around State Street between 30th and 35th (“The Stroll”) and 43rd Street and 47th Street between State Street and Cottage Grove Avenue. Its hard to express just how massive this footprint was, probably 2-3 times the size of Harlem. The Great Depression hit the area hard but racist policies of city government were the most destructive force to the neighborhood. In 1941, the city built the infamous and gigantic Ida B Wells housing projects btwn 35th and Pershing and in 1961 the Robert Taylor high rises covering many blocks along State Street. You may recall seeing these along I-90 on the way to Downtown. Both projects produced severe social problems exacerbated by concentrated poverty. They were demolished by the 2000s.

Thankfully the 21st century has been more positive for Bronzeville. Population contrasted from 78K in 1950 to 18K in 2010 but has began to rebound the past decade. Much needed residential in-fill has begun to emerge throughout the neighborhood, especially along stronger residential streets. Commercial development has lagged behind but some new mixed-use bldgs emerged along Cottage Avenue and renovated storefronts in the remaining nodes of business district fabric along 47th Street. Urban strengths for Bronzeville include great public transit access, decent bike infrastructure, convenience to Downtown, great park amenities, diverse housing options and a relatively affordable neighborhood to buy a condo or home.

Click here to view my Bronzeville Album on Flickr

URBAN STRENGTHS:

* Solid urban density.
* Very consistent curb cuts at modern standards. Sidewalks are generally good but still some sections of crumbling sidewalks generally corresponding to areas of vacancy.
* Excellent access to public transit.
* Solid bike infrastructure with length dedicated bike lanes running down MLK Blvd and Drexel Blvd and many dedicate bike stations.
* Good connectivity overall.
* Still a good amount of quality historic buildings remaining with most of the residential being kept up nicely.
* Decent # of rentals and generally moderately priced. 1-beds lease in the low-mid 1Ks, 2-beds lease btwn the mid 1Ks to low 2K, and plenty of 3-beds available that lease btwn the high 1Ks to 3K. Some 4-beds as well that are at a similar rent. Significant amount of dedicated afford rentals here.
* Decent # of 1 bed condos that sell in the 100Ks, 2-beds sell btwn 100K-450K, 3 & 4 beds btwn  175K-750 but mostly units sell below 400K.
* Access to a good amount of park space including many small-medium parks spread throughout and the massive Washington Park on the southern border and the NE section has access to the expansive lakefront park.

URBAN WEAKNESSES:

* Ok economic and diverse diversity. Large Black population at about 85% and most households earn less than 40K.
* Crime is still an issue but much better than it used to be. Lots of vacant lots throughout the neighborhood but most are well trimmed. Few vacant residential buildings but still a decent amount of vacant commercial remains.
* Good # of walkable schools but only a handful have at least decent ratings.
* In fill is a mix bag of quality residential in-fill, bland res, infill and autocentric commercial. Newer projects are getting better.
* Fair cultural amenities includes some restaurants, bars & cafes, the Harold Washington Arts Center, a couple small museums.
* Okay retail amenities including a small format Walmart, a couple supermarkets, a couple pharmacies, several boutiques & clothing stores especially 47th st, a couple banks, a local public library & post office, plenty of churches and a major hospital.
* Urban massing isn’t great as much of the historic fabric has been erased especially along the biz districts (i.e. 47th, 43rd, Cottage Grove, and Pershing.
* Lots of dead spots in the neighborhood.

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