Friday, June 22, 2018

Washington Monthly: South Side story

The Chicago Neighborhoods
 Sorry to have sat on this since the spring. A story about the Pullman neighborhood. Or "How a historic Chicago neighborhood became a national model for community revitalization."
Yet one lower-income South Side neighborhood manages to defy the ironclad logic of the favored quarter: historic Pullman, a vibrant enclave in the middle of the South Side that is home to equal numbers of African Americans, Latinos, and whites. (Not all South and West neighborhoods are poor, but most of those doing well economically—Hyde Park, the Near West Side, Bridgeport, and Beverly—are predominantly white and Asian.)

Strolling down Pullman’s St. Lawrence Avenue, whose shaded sidewalks are fronted by side-by-side duplexes, you notice the same redbrick charm that characterizes the North Side. Yet in Pullman, you can land a well-kept three-bedroom duplex down the block from a cozy cafĂ© and around the corner from one of the city’s top-rated public elementary schools at a price that wouldn’t go far in swank precincts across town. Residents enjoy many of the conveniences of North Side living, too. At the new Pullman Park development, there’s a Walmart (watering this former food desert), a clothing store, a Planet Fitness health club, a locally owned dry cleaners, and Pullman’s first sit-down restaurant in decades.

The relative peace and prosperity of Pullman in the midst of the hard-hit South Side highlights the promise of “asset-based” community development—the idea that focusing on the strengths of a particular place is just as important as targeting the problems. This model offers practical lessons for other neighborhoods across the country suffering from economic disinvestment and social unraveling. In Pullman’s case, a remarkable degree of resilience has arisen from these assets: high levels of civic engagement; a physical environment that encourages walking and social interaction; access to resources tied to historic preservation; and an ambitious community developer planting stakes in the neighborhood.

If the name Pullman sounds vaguely familiar, it’s likely because of the legendary railroad sleeping cars built here from 1881 to 1955. Pullman was no grimy slum, but actually one of the most celebrated urban planning projects of the nineteenth century—providing a good place to live was part of owner George Pullman’s mission to elevate the character of his workers. The London Times declared the elegant public buildings and squares flanked by single-family homes for managers and handsome brick townhouses for workers “the most perfect town in the world.” The other reason you may have heard of Pullman is that in 1894 the company’s workers responded to wage cuts with no reduction in rent at company-owned housing with a historic strike.
Read the whole thing!