NORTH LAWNDALE — In the shadow of the former Sears, Roebuck & Co. campus, city leaders joined hundreds of North Lawndale residents Saturday morning at DRW College Prep, 931 South Homan, to shape the future of the beleaguered west side community at the official kickoff of the North Lawndale Community Planning Conference.
The project, a collaboration between North Lawndale Community Coordinating Council (NLCCC) and Chicago's Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP), the state's regional planning organization, is the second of its kind in 50 years.
"Usually when people come to something like this, it's to react to something," said CMAP Senior Planner Brandon Nolin. "But we're here to listen."
Aiming for a comprehensive, community-driven approach, North Lawndale's Neighborhood Plan will focus on a number of topics, including housing, economic development, infrastructure, and land use. Instead of projects competing for resources, they will complement each other.
According to the organization's project overview, the plan may include analysis of surrounding areas. "It's too much land that other people want," said Cook County Commissioner Robert Steele, a longtime North Lawndale resident. "It's too valuable to just give away." Alderman Michael Scott and Congressman Danny Davis were also in attendance.
Conference attendees spent the day laying groundwork for the 18-month project, identifying neighborhood challenges and possible solutions. Each participant was given a handheld keypad to respond to a number of questions about community issues, and each table was lead by a facilitator to encourage discussion. The topics that received the most votes — public safety, economic development, and vacant lots — guided the discussions.
Attendees were also treated to performances from the Celestial Ministries Drumline and the DRW Honors Choir.
"It's too soon to tell how much the plan will cost," said NLCCC subcommittee member Dennis Deer. "It's hard to place a dollar value on it because we've only scratched the surface."
Deer, a longtime resident who owns a rehabilitation center in the area, is optimistic about what lies ahead.
"We want it to turn into a Lincoln Park, but one that doesn't displace current residents," said Deer, a former developer. "As you gentrify a community, you should be changing the paradigm of the residents as opposed to displacing them."
Deer believes that giving North Lawndale residents trade training, construction jobs, and entrepreneurial opportunities will put them on par with communities like Lincoln Park.
"There are very smart people here who want this community to go up a notch," said Deer. "We're ready."
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