Douglas- Historic South Chicago Neighborhood Most Impacted by Urban Renewal

For this evaluation I only reviewed the portion of Douglas north of Pershing Avenue although the southern half of Douglas between Pershing and 31th is also historically considered part of Bronzeville. The Douglas neighborhood is named after Stephen A. Douglas, Abraham Lincoln’s political foe in the 1860 presidential election. His estate included a tract of land given to the federal government later developed for use as the Civil War Union training and prison camp. Of all the sections of Douglas originally developed by Stephen A. Douglas, only the oval-shaped Groveland Park survives. State Street between 30th and 35th and 35th Streets were major cultural hubs in historic Bronzeville. 

Sadly, the Douglas neighborhood was part of the City’s largest urban renewal project, which began in 1946. It included  the construction of the Illinois Institute of Technology, Mercy Hospital, Prairie Shores, and the 1677 unit Lake Meadows public housing project. Fortunately  Prairie Shores has been adopted as middle-class market rate condo community.  The scale of the urban renewal efforts in Douglas is truly astounding as it covered around 75% of the neighborhood. Sadly urban renewal at the time was founded on racist policies that did not think twice about removing and displacing this cultural home for thousands of African Americans and countless businesses. In the ensuing decades between the 1960s-2000s, Douglas remained an area of concentrated African American poverty with limited cultural and retail amenities. Since the 2000s Douglas has slowly rebounded  with blight being stabilized and the remaining historic stock being renovated and accursing value. 37th Street has seen some new businesses but most of the historic retail fabric of the district has not been rebuilt nor has their been much development spill over from IIT into the neighborhood.

Like its neighborhood Bronzeville to the South, the next chapter in Douglas is rebuilding and healing the urban fabric that was severely wounded by urban renewal and racism. I am hopeful that in 2 decades Douglas may be completed reconstructed given its convenient location near the South Loop, and waning of old racist mentalities, which placed South Chicago in the “do not flight zone” for Whites. I just hope that enough retail amenities are built so this can truly become a thriving mixed-use neighborhood as opposed to an awkward mix of urban density with limited walkability.

Click here to view my Douglas Album on Flickr

URBAN STRENGTHS:

* Decent density.
* Great public transit access.
* Generally good ADA curbs and sidewalks but some underinvested stretches of sidewalks.
* Excellent access to Dwtn being only 3 miles south.
* Great bike coverage with several dedicated bike lanes and lots of dedicated bike stations.
* Thanks to the IL Institute of Technology Douglas has a decent Asian population and an ok generational diversity.
* Lots of walkable schools but of mixed ratings.
kept up nicely.
* Decent # of rentals and generally moderately priced but some luxury product with its close proximity to South Loop. 1-beds lease btwn $850-2K, 2-beds lease btwn the mid 1Ks to 2.5K, and plenty of 3-beds available that lease btwn 1.5K-3.5K. A handful for 4 beds at a similar rent. Significant amount of dedicated afford rentals here.
* For sale is a mix of moderately priced and higher end product. Decent # of  studio condos selling btwn 75K-200K, 1 bed condos that sell btwn 135K-350K, 2-beds sell btwn 125K-500K, 3 & 4 beds btwn  225K-800K.
* Excellent park amenities including the expansive Lakefront park, large and multi-faceted Dunbar, Ellis, and Lake Meadows park, and lots of smaller parks and greenspaces on mid-century tower developments.

URBAN WEAKNESSES:

* Good connectivity along the main streets but due to urban renewal side streets often have limited connectivity and often dead end.
* Economic diversity is not the best. Over half of the population is living in poverty but still some middle and upper middle class households.
* Crime seems to generally be under control in Douglas and less so than Grand Boulevard to the south. Also far fewer vacant bldgs here as blight is mostly cleaned up. Plenty of vacant lots but generally maintained.
* Cultural amenities are limited including some restaurants,  a couple cafes, a brewery, a couple historic sites, and some cultural amenities at the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT).
* Docent retail amenities including 2 supermarkets, a couple drug stores, several banks, a Hardware store, a couple boutiques, lots of salons/barber shops, a couple dessert joints and gyms. a local public library and post office, a major hospital, and several churches.
* Much of Douglas historic urban fabric and most of its urban biz district fabric has been demolished. Some good stretches along 35th and a few along Pershing.
* Some better recent modern in-fill but most of it is cold mid century or bland 90s/early 2000s infill. Also a lot of autocentric infill.

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