Chicago Crusader staff report
Chatham, one of Chicago’s most prominent Black communities, is about to undergo two multimillion dollar projects to improve the neighborhood.
In two of his most ambitious plans for the historic neighborhood, Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Wednesday, April 20, launched a $4.8 million streetscape improvement project that will support local businesses. The project started this week.
The swift move came days after the mayor announced a $12 million renovation project at Whitney M. Young Jr. Library at 7901 S. King Drive.
The mayor said the project on Cottage Grove aims to support local business from 77th to 83rd Streets.
Emanuel said the project will bring new lighting, landscaping and other amenities designed to encourage retail traffic and increase pedestrian safety. The plan was developed in close cooperation with Alderman Roderick Sawyer (6th) and Alderman Michelle Harris (8th), and is part of the mayor’s efforts to help the Greater Chatham Initiative revitalize the area.
“This project is more than a streetscape. It is a symbol of the resilience and resolve of Chatham,” Emanuel said in a statement. “From the lighting to the landscaping, this will make the street safer and the neighborhood stronger, and drive opportunities for economic development. And it will make the entire community proud.”
The $4.8 million project will take about one year to complete and will be undertaken by the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT). It will include the following features:
- More reliable and energy efficient street lighting;
- Buried power lines
- Sidewalk repairs
- Curb and gutter repairs
- Updated ADA ramps
- Permeable pavers
- Infiltrating tree pits with shade trees and tree grates
- Side street bump-outs.
“The Cottage Grove Streetscape Project demonstrates CDOT’s commitment to building ‘Complete Streets,” CDOT Commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld said. “The goal is to ensure that Chicago’s roadways are designed and built in a balanced way to improve safety for users of all ages and modes of transportation, improve health and build stronger communities.”
The mayor said the $12 million renovation project at Whitney M. Young, Jr. Library will provide the neighborhood with a modern library space that continues to serve as an essential community anchor, providing critical services and resources to meet a variety of local needs. Features will include an early learning center for children, a YOUmedia digital media lab for teens, additional seating, new state-of-the-art equipment, additional meeting and study spaces, refreshed collections, ADA accessibility throughout the building and a computer commons that will add computer capacity.
Both projects are part of the Greater Chatham Initiative, a collaboration of local and regional stakeholders that are developing a comprehensive set of new activities and enterprises tailored to help support and guide the communities of Chatham, Auburn Gresham, Greater Grand Crossing and Avalon Park as they establish their places in the 21st-century economy.
“The revitalization of our neighborhood retail districts and critical assets like the Whitney Young Library are paramount to the mission of the Greater Chatham Initiative,” Marlow Colvin, vice president of Government Affairs for ComEd and co-chair of GCI said. “We applaud the Mayor’s commitment to the health and vibrancy of these communities.
Throughout construction of the streetscape project, Cottage Grove Avenue will remain open to motorists and pedestrians and access to businesses and residences will be maintained. Parking will not be allowed in the area of active construction and there will be periodic parking restrictions on some side streets.
Community leaders and the city’s Black aldermen praise both projects. Most Black aldermen have quietly supported Emanuel during the most difficult period in the mayor’s term at City Hall. In the last five months, the mayor has been heavily criticized for his role in suppressing a video that shows a police officer shooting Laquan McDonald 16 times in October 2014.
Since then, the mayor has taken steps to repair his legacy and relationship in the Black community. The renovation projects on Cottage Grove and Whitney M. Young Library are his latest efforts. They are among the biggest and most expensive projects the mayor has launched in the Black community since he took office in 2011.