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What's Next For North Lawndale? Efforts Aim To Plan For Vibrant Future

By Stephanie Lulay | April 12, 2016 6:32am
 A meeting Saturday will launch North Lawndale's first comprehensive planning effort in more than 50 years. 
A meeting Saturday will launch North Lawndale's first comprehensive planning effort in more than 50 years. 
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Flickr/Ian Freimuth

NORTH LAWNDALE — North Lawndale was once a hub of industry and a Northern base for the Civil Rights movement.

Now city planners and neighborhood leaders are mapping a vibrant plan for its future. 

In an effort to revive the neighborhood, the North Lawndale Community Coordinating Council and Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning are teaming up to create a new North Lawndale Neighborhood Plan that emphasizes the neighborhood's unique architectural character and historic significance. The team will launch the planning effort at the first annual North Lawndale Community Planning Conference 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday at DRW College Preparatory High School, 931 S. Homan Ave.

The meeting is part of the first comprehensive planning effort for North Lawndale in more than 50 years, and is the neighborhood's very first planning conference ever, said Valerie Leonard of the Lawndale Alliance. Key areas of emphasis for the plan include transit-oriented development, economic development, the Ogden, Roosevelt and 16th Street corridors, Douglas Park and the Homan Square development.

Brandon Nolin, senior planner for the planning council, said the team will outline the neighborhood's physical assets, developing a plan to best utilize the neighborhood's land and housing stock while fostering future development. 

"There are a lot of groups doing good in North Lawndale, and one of the great assets that a neighborhood plan offers is it helps put everything in the same place," Nolin said. After completion, "everyone will be able to pull from the same playbook, so to speak." 

While North Lawndale's more recent past has been one of population loss and disinvestment, Nolin said the neighborhood's wide boulevards  and proximity to the Loop, University of Illinois at Chicago and the Illinois Medical District show potential for residential and commercial investment. It also has a special place in Chicago history as a spot where Martin Luther King lived and led a fair housing fight 50 years ago.

Ald. Michael Scott (24th) said the neighborhood has the second-most vacant lots in the city and is only a seven-minute drive from Downtown, making the neighborhood ripe for new development. 

"We have all of the attributes to be a great community, we just have to work together to improve on our existing assets," he said. 

In 10 years, Scott said he hopes North Lawndale has retained all of its existing families, but has grown into a retail destination, too, "where people can shop grab lunch and coffee or go to a concert." 

Some iconic landmarks in the neighborhood have already found new life. In November, the 14-story Sears Tower on Homan Avenue reopened as a community hub for arts education, workforce development and economic enterprise. Renamed Nichols Tower, the building will once again become a symbol for hope and opportunity in the neighborhood, Scott said.

Planning conference Saturday

More than 200 community representatives are expected to participate in the meeting Saturday, including elected officials, city leaders, business owners, faith-based leaders and local residents. 

There will be activities and breakout sessions on site for children ages 3-12, 13-18 and adults. Admission is free and lunch will be provided. To register or for more information, visit nlcccplanning.org/register, or call Dorine Poole at 773-826-1356.

Residents are also invited to provide input through an online community survey through June. 

The North Lawndale Neighborhood Plan will be completed is five phases over 1½ years, with guidance from a steering committee made up of community stakeholders. 

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