A Chicago Success Story for America to Follow

When a city experiences revitalization, its identity doesn’t have to be at odds with its future. Yet, often what’s new is seen as an intentional erasing of the old. In some areas undergoing redevelopment, the scene is that of scaffolding and forklifts casting shadows on large swaths of idle land, and it’s a visual that leaves many feeling pushed aside. But there is a balance that can be struck when groups come together and find creative ways to give new life to communities that need it the most. We’re seeing that happen in Chicago, and now there’s a chance for other communities to learn from that great city’s example.

This week banking professionals from all corners of the country will convene in Chicago for the American Bankers Association annual convention. The agenda includes a visit to Woodlawn and Englewood, two South Side Chicago neighborhoods successfully looking to the future without forgetting their past. Thanks to the hard work of community groups, the city and a mix of local banks, Woodlawn and Englewood could provide a roadmap for others to follow.

Joined by representatives from the mayor’s office, the bankers will stop in Woodlawn to see the preservation of small-scale rental housing, where the Community Investment Corporation — through support from banks of all sizes — will improve nearly 600 residences to keep their occupants in their homes. Elsewhere in Woodlawn, a new mix of mid-rise multifamily homes, as well as recreation hubs and tree-lined public parks, fill vacant plots of land. Add the forthcoming Obama Presidential Library to the neighborhood’s resume and the direction is clear. Woodlawn’s forward momentum is a nod to careful cooperation between financial backers and local groups.

The tour will also visit Englewood, whose population was nearly halved in the decades following its 1960s heyday. Along 63rd Street is a new commercial corridor made possible by PNC Bank, the City of Chicago and several local organizations — grown out of a longstanding retail void. Englewood Square, part of the Southwest Corridor Collaborative, is now a burgeoning shopping center on 5.5 acres — and the joint effort was financed by LISC Chicago, the PrivateBank, the Urban Partnership Bank and U.S. Bank.

They’ll also see Hope Manor II, a cluster of housing specifically designed for veterans with families. Financed by JPMorgan Chase, several Chicago entities and MB Financial Bank, it is a pioneer for large-scale supportive housing in the U.S. These groups are resuscitating credit-starved communities with strategic guidance from bank advisors, who include PNC, Fifth Third Bank and Forest Park National among others. Together with non-profit, Preservation of Affordable Housing, hundreds of new affordable housing units throughout Chicago are a reality, as well as facilities like the MetroSquash sports and education center, which serves nearly 300 young adults in Woodlawn.

These projects will not solve all the challenges facing Woodlawn and Englewood or the city of Chicago on their own, but they hold the promise of making life better for people living there. They also show how banks, local organizations and the city are working to restore, renew and reimagine Chicago’s storied neighborhoods, one street at a time — proving to residents new and old that they can do more than just coexist; they can find an equilibrium where all sides can benefit. The result is a stronger and better Chicago. It’s a success story bankers from across the country will see for themselves this week, and ABA will encourage them to replicate in their own communities.

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