Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Setting Priorities for South Works

An interesting post by Bob Quellos in Gapers Block on plans for the redevelopment of the former US Steel South Works site on Chicago's South Side, now sitting vacant. The author questions the priorities of the "powers that be" in that city, particularly when faced with massive layoffs in the city services sector.

The project has all the classic overtones of a large Chicago project -- massive spending but with loosely defined priorities and outcomes, little consideration for surrounding neighborhoods (some of the City's poorest), and the specter of impending gentrification.

But Quellos also raises indirectly the larger question of what our priorities should be when faced with myriad challenges, both short-term and structural -- crumbling infrastructure in the rest of the city, continued reliance on non-renewable energy and a sagging economy to name a few. Should we be funneling tax dollars to private investors, and what is the probable outcome if we don't?

Would South Works  (and other sites like it) continue to languish without the injection of private sector investment? And should we be swayed from our long-term goals of neighborhood-strengthening by the need to address short-term calamities, such as the recent layoff of 1,100 CTA employees?

More specifically, what types of investment should we finance in South Works for the greatest positive impact, and what is the time frame for a program of this magnitude to mature? What opportunities avail themselves?

What about high-capacity transit to service the new urban neighborhood? This blog has long advocated a Vision Plan for Chicago transit that looks 25, even 50 to 100 years in the future. As the inset (left and above) shows, we might consider securing right-of-way now for a corridor about 1/3 of a mile east of the current Metra Electric South Chicago branch, that can form the mixed-use spine of the new community, while also supporting higher densities than the current line serves. And could the old corridor be repurposed as a new bicycle/pedestrian greenway (not shown) in a neighborhood sorely lacking such facilities?

While we show light rail, this is just a placeholder. Other visions exist for the repurposing of Metra Electric service to better serve the neighborhood, such as the Gray Line proposal. In any case, the community should have a say in the choice of mode, via an inclusive and participatory environmental process that looks at the larger neighborhood comprising South Works plus the existing neighborhoods to the west, all the way to South Chicago Avenue, not just the new neighborhood being slapped on the landscape.

The point is not to fall in love with any single plan, but to look thoughtfully and holistically at the myriad of elements needed to create a truly great, new neighborhood that supports and strengthens its surroundings and brings social and economic vitality to an entire chunk of a great city, in this case southeastern Chicago. We don't get these kind of chances often, so let's go about getting to these decisions the right way.


Post a Comment