Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=221616
Story Retrieval Date: 10/20/2014 5:50:40 PM CST
Mandy Niad and Marina Cracchiolo/MEDILL
Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle gathered in “a room full of friends” to celebrate the achievements and tangible results of 10 years of hard work for the Quad Communities Development Corp. with board members, business owners, community leaders and partners at Maggiano’s Little Italy in downtown Chicago.
Work has been done through a partnership with the Local Initiatives Support Corp., which has brought communities together to analyze their needs and make decisions jointly with local experts.
Construction is underway at 47th Street and Cottage Grove, which is especially exciting because there hasn’t been many commercial retailers developed there in the last 50 years, according to Bernita Johnson-Gabriel, executive director of the development corporation.
This intersection will be anchored by a Walmart Neighborhood Market, yet Johnson-Gabriel is even more excited for the smaller businesses in the community because she believes they will reap the benefits of the people and spending Walmart will attract.
The development corporation also has hosted the Bronzeville Community Market bringing fresh produce in the community from June to October, developed the Dyett-Washington Park Green Youth Farm program allowing students to grow produce and sell products to local businesses, and formed a partnership with the Cara Program, a job training and placement provider for people affected by poverty and homelessness.
Preckwinkle said, "redistricting can change a ward, an election can change leadership, lobbying can change the law. But building strong and healthy communities requires planning and investment over the long term, and that’s where QCDC comes in."
She saw the need to empower the community and enable the funding of bigger projects – enter QCDC.
In May of 2003, QCDC began with a 18 month planning process to develop a 10 year quality of life plan to serve the development of four communities – North Kenwood, Oakland, Douglas and Grand Boulevard.
The organization is pursuing a vision of redevelopment and revitalization to the 4th ward, which has “communities that are economically and racially diverse” as well as “communities that have struggled for a very long period of time,” according to Preckwinkle. Regardless of these communities’ struggles, “they possessed unusually rich resources consisting of residents and local institutions.”
Over 400 community residents and stakeholders helped shape the plan which serves as a framework for QCDC’s work, according to Preckwinkle, aligning with the goal to touch as many residents as possible.
Monica Haslip, executive director of Little Black Pearl, a youth cultural center on 47th and Greenwood, has been partnered with QCDC for the past 10 years. Haslip describes QCDC as a “development corporation that has actually engaged young people in a way that they can see their work in the community.”
Preckwinkle was the alderman of the 4th ward 10 years ago, and while it doesn’t seem like a decade to her, “much work has been done in that time.”
Milestones have been accomplished and challenges have been conquered in the past decade - introductions of ordinances, working with developers, and fighting demolition – like in December of 1998, when four Chicago Housing Authority public high-rises were knocked down.
Community leaders are always looking for more small businesses, which should be attracted to the area because even throughout the recession, not one business has had to close its doors within the last three years, according to Johnson-Gabriel.
However, there’s a lot more work to be done and “many needs remain unmet,” according to Preckwinkle.
For the past decade, the MacArthur Foundation supported efforts by funding the New Communities Program which seeks to rejuvenate challenged communities throughout Chicago. Preckwinkle said that decade is coming to an end, and now all the organizations that were funded face the challenge of finding support on their own.