South Chicago’s Commercial Avenue Revitalization Plan

The Great Cities Institute facilitated a planning process for revitalization of the Commercial Avenue corridor in the South Chicago community. In collaboration with the South Chicago Chamber of Commerce and Special Service Area (SSA) #5, GCI embarked on a twelve-month community-based planning process with key neighborhood stakeholders including residents, business owners, community organizations, service providers, and elected officials.

In South Chicago, retail has been on the decline, with very little recovery, since the loss of the steel industry. Beginning as a sharp decline in the mid 1970s, the last steel mill closed its doors in the early 1990s.   The loss of those payrolls meant a loss in retail employment and the access to the goods and services that retail provides. As a result, a once thriving commercial corridor at the heart of South Chicago now contains only a fraction of the businesses it once held. Interspersed through the occasional business, are rampant vacancies and empty lots. Residents active in South Chicago believe in the possibilities for a revived South Commercial Avenue. We are honored to have worked with them on this strategic planning process for commercial revitalization in South Chicago.

As we partnered with South Chicago residents and organizations, we began by inviting stakeholders to develop ideas and strategies, utilizing their local knowledge to provide the foundation for the plan. Applying our various technical tools, we gathered the community’s input and guided residents and organizations towards a consensus on actions to take to implement the plan. Through a series of community meetings and design charrettes, we developed a vision, design, and actions for the corridor. We coupled the wants and needs of stakeholders with data and economic analysis to form a basis for the recruitment of new businesses to fill vacancies and create a vibrant corridor.

The resulting plan is having a direct effect on the Commercial Avenue corridor by creating a focus on the importance of the corridor and by creating a framework for future developments along the corridor. This process takes time, but over several years of focused efforts, the intention is to produce a thriving, vibrant corridor that draws people from all over the region to shop, dine, and stroll in the South Chicago neighborhood. The result will be a stronger economy, more jobs, and access to the goods and services that neighborhood residents need.

South Chicago’s Commercial Avenue Revitalization Plan » (PDF)

Implementation Projects

Architecture Students Develop Concepts for Public Space Under Chicago Skyway

Spring 2017 architectural students at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) put their planning and design skills together in an effort to bring beauty, life and culture to a space mostly forgotten in the urban landscape.

The students participated in a 10-day ideas competition from January 26 to February 9 that drew more than fifty students paired into thirteen teams.  Each team was tasked with designing a new public space under the Chicago Skyway to act as the southern anchor to the South Chicago Commercial Avenue corridor.

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Student design proposals were intended to transform the unused site along Commercial Avenue under the Chicago Skyway into a visible and active public space.  This new space is designed to act as the southern anchor to the South Chicago Commercial District, the focus of the “South Chicago’s Commercial Avenue Revitalization Plan,” and is an instance of residual infrastructure dead space needing to be transformed from a wasteland into a rich public zone. Students were expected to be visionary in scope, but retain a degree of feasibility.  Most importantly, the students were challenged to find a way to bring value to vacant space and enhance the life of the community, both on the specific UnderLine site and across the commercial district.

Students were able to share their ideas with community members, elected officials, and other interested parties at a community gallery opening on February 15 at the U.S. Bank on 92nd Street and Commercial Avenue.

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“We want to thank all the students who participated, their fresh ideas and hard work go a long way in building enthusiasm within the community” Dan Lira Executive Director, The South Chicago Chamber of Commerce/SSA #5.

The competition was organized by the UIC School of Architecture in partnership with the South Chicago Chamber of Commerce/SSA #5, and the UIC Great Cities Institute.