Washington Park has less than a third of the residents that it once did, and is battling crime and foreclosures.
But residents and officials say they hope new parks, and a revitalized commercial district that puts a focus on the area’s rich history, will ultimately make the neighborhood a great place to live.
Many turned out over the weekend to hear details of the new Washington Park quality of life plan, which lays out a path forward for the neighborhood.
“We can do great things in Washington Park,” said Alderman Willie Cochran.
Cochran, elected in 2007 after serving for 25 years as a police officer, began the planning process about 18 months ago, assembling a group that included residents, church leaders, business owners and several neighborhood associations.
“Today, we have a viable plan to move our community forward,” he said.
The Washington Park Consortium, a new nonprofit organization, will be responsible for carrying out the plan.
“The quality of life plan is a document that says what the community wants,” said Brandon F. Johnson, the consortium’s new executive director.
The plan includes development of new and rehabbed housing, preventive health care maintenance, and closer partnerships with area schools and churches.
Both Johnson and Cochran admit that it will be a challenge to find funding to carry out the plan. But both said they are encouraged by the financial commitments and other support already received from such as Local Initiatives Support Corporation, Teska Associates and the City of Chicago’s Department of Planning and Development.
Johnson commended LISC for providing early action seed grants that provided several outlets for community residents including a new computer learning center, as well as home foreclosure counseling through the South Side Federal Credit Union.
Johnson said one of the consortium’s first tasks will be to further develop Garfield Boulevard, a major commercial corridor. The consortium is seeking partners to invest in projects there.
Washington Park is one of the proposed venues for the 2016 Olympics. The attention and construction that will follow if Chicago wins its bid to host the games present both opportunities and threats for the neighborhood, the consortium says.
The games could encourage new investments in the neighborhood, but could also displace residence or reshape the community without their input, the consortium says.
And even if the bid falls through, Johnson said, it will help Washington Park.
“It’s as though we are now able to see ourselves in a new light-that we have something to offer and are still attractive,” he said.