For the second time in less than a week, the Chicago Housing Authority held a public meeting to introduce Chicago’s citizenry to its plan to redevelop roughly 65 acres of the area that was formerly the Cabrini-Green housing projects. Though short on specifics, the meeting drew enough interest to to fill a gym at the Seward Park Fieldhouse, and spark discussion about what is sure to become a passionate topic in the Cabrini Green neighborhood.
Led by C.H.A. Development Manager Kathy Caisley and CEO Michael Merchant, the program began with brief introductions and comments from 27th Ward Alderman Walter Burnett, Jr and Near North Unity Program executive director Randall Blakey, who would later moderate the public discussion portion of the evening.
The C.H.A. followed with a fast-paced video presentation of its Cabrini-Green Community Redevelopment Planning outline before moving directly to public input from the people in attendance. Those with quick pens noted the first 4 phases call for approximately 2,300 to 2,400 residential units, likely to be a mix of condos and rentals. They’re also likely to be 50% market rate, 30% public housing, and 20% affordable housing.
Concerns were immediately raised about the density of the proposed developments, a theme many have become accustomed to in community meetings. However, on this particular night, the issue was with density seemingly too low for a neighborhood once home to 3,600 or so housing units. Caisley responded with the CHA’s position that the current range of units planned fits with what’s happening in the neighborhood currently, and is more welcoming to people with families wanting to move into the area. This, she added, “[is] the best plan for the community.”
Robert Croston, the principal at Edward Jenner Elementary Academy of the Arts, located immediately west of Seward Park, found C.H.A.’s map “troublesome” as it left out schools. He also brought up the issue of getting neighborhood kids to attend neighborhood schools, noting that his school has just 240 of the nearly 2,000 pre-K to 8th-grade children in the area.
- A significant increase in the number of vehicles on already-busy Larrabee Street
- The public use of facilities at Walter Payton High College Preparatory High School. (Alderman Burnett stated there has never been an agreement to make those facilities available to the public, but he has had discussion with the school about future use)
- The safety in the area of Skinner North School/Scott Street (Get more neighborhood children to enroll there, according to the alderman, and you won’t have so many parents driving their kids to and from the school)
The Cabrini-Green project is a major undertaking in the works for years, and more questions will likely be asked than answers are available for some time to come. As individual projects within the plan are ready to be submitted for contractor bidding, the public will have many more opportunities to be involved.
For now, it appears that many people are just happy to see a plan on the table. The C.H.A. promised to hear what Chicago has to say about the plans throughout the process of the project, and as more details emerge, spirited debate is sure to follow.