If this city has a future, it lies about five miles south of the Loop, in a neighborhood called Woodlawn.
In the last couple of decades, the future of Chicago could be glimpsed first through the windows of Woodlawn, but it always arrived a little too abruptly to permit much planning or orderly adjustment.
Since the 1950s, there has been a steady stream of blacks, mant of them poor, the panicky flight of some 30,000 whites, the invasion of thugs and street gangs hookers and pushers, profiteers and arsonists.
In the early '70s, when the smoke cleared over the mile-square area just south of the Museum of Science and Industry. Woodlawn was a prairie of rubble-topped vacant lot, infested housing and businesses operating from behind boarded shops, patronized by fearful residents, more than 95 per cent of whom were black.
Now Woodlawn is on the threshold of yet another change. But this change is planned: a 20-year $220-million revitalization of Woodlawn into an integrated, economically sound of community.
Other community groups, in Chicago and elsewhere, can match the plan for ambition and promises, and if that were all there were to it - an other community redevelopment project - Woodlawn likely would remain the slum it is.
But Woodlawn is different, and the difference is The Woodlawn Organization (TWO), a savvy, street-wise group founded in 1960 under the inspiration of social activist Saul Alinsky.
TWO built its support in tedious, block-by-block organization efforts, rallying the residents to its causes of school desegregation and housing improvement. And once invited into the city's power structure, TWO showed that its visionary ideas were tempered by a pragmatism seldom found among community groups. Where other groups could talk about "getting a federal grant" for one scheme or another, TWO had its community organized, knew where among the alphabet of federal agencies the money could be had, mustered the support of the downtown politicians and banks and always had a plan ready.
The first phase of the revitalization - a $27 million renewal project on 375 acres of East Woodlawn - is worthy of TWO's muscle and savvy.
The Chicago City Council already has begun steps to acquire the dilapidated buildings in the area, raze them and resell the vacant parcels to developers at fair market prices. Ground-breaking on the first construction sites is scheduled for later this year.
Half the TWo project will be a $12-million residential financed by local and federal funds with interim financing by Chicago's huge Continental Bank. The TWO plan includes 394 rental housing units, including three-story walk-up townhouses, townhouse garden apartments and mid-rise apartment buildings for the elderly. Rents are scheduled to be about $400 a month for three-bedroom units to $150 for singles. Townhouses would be available for rent or purchase.
Also included is a recreational park and a 50,000-square-foot shopping center on the north end to anchor the project and tie it socially and economically to Jackson Park Terrace, a 322 unit high-rise and townhouse complex. Jackson Park is one of TWO's earlier successes, and its 15 per cent white occupancy augurs well for the East Woodlawn project to attract middle-income whites, many drawn from the nearby University of Chicago.
Ideally, TWO wants the community to be 60 per cent black, 30 per cent white and 10 per cent Latino and Asian. Six out of 10 families, it si hoped, will be middle income, two on public aid, and the remaining two classified as low-income working class.
Anchoring the south end will be one of the most impressive religious structures in the Midwest: a mosque built by the World Community of Islam in the West, once commonly known as the Black Muslims. The mosque will sit on an 11-acre site and feature a domed roof and adjacent minaret soaring 200 feet above the ground. A hall for religious purposes, assembly rooms and classrooms for general adult education are included in the plans for the mosque, to be the largest in the western hemisphere.
Wallace D. Muhammad, who succeeded to the leadership of the World Community in 1975 after the death of his father, Elijah Muhammad, said the mosque will cost about $15 million, including the building and religious objects it will contain.
Although the World Community has had some financial trouble, due mainly to inept administration of its vast commercial and real estate holdings. Muhammad said the organization has been assured of contributions from some foreign countries, including Saudi Arabia.
The long-planned mosque caused some concern among TWO and city officials. It was feared that if the World Community - with its reputation as a black separatist movement - announced the project unilaterally, it would preempt the South Side, and especially Woodlawn, against any future integrated development. Actually, the World COmmunity renounced its policy of black separatism upon the death of Elijah Muhammad and since 1975 has been concentrating mainly on religious development.
But that change in character has been lost on many Chicago whites, and TWO unveiled its massive 20-year plan, with heavy emphasis on an integrated Woodlawn, in July 1976. Plans for the World Community's mosque were announced five months later at a joint press conference - with TWO and acting Mayor Mirchael Bilandic - as part of the largest East Woodlawn development.
The man cost responsible for TWO's success, and on whom the responsibility for East Woodlawn's future rests most heavily, is Leon Finney, TWO's 38-year-old executive director. Finney, who joined TWO in 1964 and worked closely with the late Alinsky, is as articulate and as tenacious as his organization. He has no illusions about what it will take to make East Woodlawn a success: middle-income families of any color.
If East Woodlawn succeeds, it will be because it has become a suburb in the city, he says. The goal is to "rebuild our inner city communities to compete with white communities and suburbss. Make those communities appealing in amenities not only to blacks but to white families as well. Build 'suburbs' in the cities as opposed to outside the city limits. Thus we protect the white and black tax base that this city needs to survive."