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


* 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.


* 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.

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


* 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.


* 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.