For Eden Hurd, the project manager of Woodlawn Park, the redevelopment of the former Grove Parc public housing and the revitalization of Woodlawn is more than just a project. In a community that is rife with gang violence, drug trafficking and the highest foreclosure rate in the city, Eden is excited to be a key part of a major series of improvements that have been talked about for the past ten years. As a longtime part of the community, a former Newhouse Fellow and a regular attendee of the Apostolic Church of God, it is quite powerful for me to see Grove Parc, a three block long section of public housing that was routinely fought over by six different gangs, disappear and be rebuilt by a community coalition.
In 2003 and 2004 Grove Parc was about to be foreclosed by HUD and voucher out all the residents. The residents did not want to be displaced so they organized themselves and started looking for developer to go in and take on the redevelopment of the property. They wanted to preserve their housing and in 2007 they went to POAH (the Preservation Of Affordable Housing, a group out of Boston), for help. They were drawn to POAH because of their name and mission. In 2008, POAH hired Eden to locally manage the project.
Eden says, “Woodlawn is community in the midst of change.”
Woodlawn has an east and a west side, Cottage Grove Avenue is the dividing line. East Woodlawn is more of the upper edge when it comes to income and here you will find more home owners. West Woodlawn on the otherhand has more low income families and renters. Unfortunately there has always been a historical clash between the communities on either side of Cottage Grove Avenue. Drug trafficking is one of the challenges the neighborhood faces, although there has been a lot of community mobilization around getting drug houses and corners closed down. Gangs and crime have been big issues but with the demolition of Grove Parc, much of the gang-related territorial fighting has been displaced to other parts of the city.
BG: Aside from the residents, who are the main players in the revitalization of the neighborhood?
EH: They have very good working relationships with Chicago Police Department and since University of Chicago has been moving closer to 63rd Street, there has been more interaction.
The IHDA (Illinois Housing Development Authority) funded the first phase of the projects and the City of Chicago has been very supportive. Alderman Willie Coachran has been in touch on a regular basis about the project. WPIC (Woodlawn Preservation Investment Corps), TWO (The Woodland Organization) and Bishop Brazier have also been very helpful.
BG: If you could change something to the process or change the project what would it be?
EH: I’ll say it like this, we were suppose to break ground in November it is now April. [Eden explained how funding the project takes a significant amount of time but the building process takes even longer.] The building process in the city of Chicago is very convoluted, because it’s so dense, it’s so difficult to move around. The city has a lot of arms that you have to work around, it takes time and it slows down projects. If we could create a more efficient (building) process, every single developer in Chicago will be very happy.
Interview conducted by Brenda Gamboa.