Eric Young Smith
When Chicago’s most famous public housing development was slated for demolition and rebuilding as a mixed income development few thought more about the future of this valuable and long-contested effort than did Alderman Walter Burnett, who had grown up in Cabrini-Green and now represented that community.
An astute observer and long an admirer of LISC Chicago’s New Communities Program (NCP), which had fostered the creation of resident-led Quality-of-Life Planning in 16 neighborhoods, Burnett thought that a similar planning effort would be the perfect approach to allow the diverse voices of the community to be heard. LISC and the MacArthur Foundation agreed and, in 2010 the Near North Unity Program (NNUP) was established to begin that process.
In February 2015, after four more years of building relationships between new and long-term residents, and more than a year of community meetings, consensus- building, door knocking, neighborhood surveys and serious hand-wringing, the Near North Quality-of-Life Plan and Design Guidelines debuted.
Much of the plan’s 74 pages are devoted to community- building, neighborhood safety, education and public spaces.
However, perhaps the most critical element is a detailed set of design guidelines for developers regarding site design, landscape standards, materials, signage and open space for the entire area – not only for the mixed income developments that have arisen on the site of the old Cabrini-Green.
Now, when developers approach the alderman he refers them to NNUP, which explains the guidelines and arranges a public presentation of proposals. NNUP then forwards its recommendation to the alderman. In other words, Burnett gives the community a major voice in what gets built and where. Mission accomplished.
The overriding goal, said Alderman Burnett, “Is to bring folks together, break down those differences and bring out how much more we have in common.” For Armesha Jones, the head of NNUP’s safety committee who lived in a Cabrini- Green apartment from 1999 to 2007, it’s working. A family of lawyers lives on one side of her now. A broker on the other.
“Before, we didn’t have a voice,” she said. “It’s different