The South Side will rise again. Salvation, says Ald. Sandi Jackson, lies in towering condos, bicycle paths, and a well-lit Macy's. And trolleys. And sailboats.
This idyllic shangri-la will rise, she says, from the muck and mire of the old U.S. Steel South Works, a 580-acre expanse of scrub and weeds right on Lake Michigan.
“We’re looking at developing an entire city,” Jackson says. “It’s like starting an entire suburb from scratch.”
The factory was demolished in the 1990s, and now the land is so barren that when Ald. Sandi Jackson’s drives her SUV over its muddy trails, she sometimes has to put the vehicle into 4-wheel drive. But Jackson dreams of transforming this remnant of industrial decay into the largest housing development in Chicago’s history.
“It’s the best kept secret in Chicago,” Jackson says, as she drives past an old factory wall the size and color of an Egyptian pyramid. The wall is too big to demolish, so it will remain as a monument to steelmaking. “Its proximity to the lake is something that you can’t get anywhere else in urban living.”
One day, says Jackson, this urban prairie -- the largest tract of vacant land in Chicago -- will be a village of 13,000 houses and condominiums, most with views of the water. The slip that once welcomed ore freighters to the steel mill will be filled with sailboats. Jackson wants to put a Macy’s here, a Crate & Barrel, a Barnes & Noble. Two-and-a-half miles of lakefront have already been deeded to the Chicago Park District, which plans to put down bicycle paths. A trolley will ferry residents to Metra stations.
The project has been decades in the making. Just to make the land habitable, the city trucked in acres of muck from the Peoria River and dumped it on top of the slag left behind by U.S. Steel. Nothing grows in slag. The developer, McCaffery Interests, won’t begin for another three years, and the entire village may not be finished for 20. Jackson hopes it changes the way Chicagoans think of her neighborhood.
The Southeast Side was always Chicago’s industrial ghetto. But now that the steel mills are gone, it possesses a unique amenity: lakefront property. Jackson thinks that could change the entire character of her ward, attracting middle-class homeowners who want to live by Lake Michigan. Like Rogers Park, Chicago’s other lakefront neighborhood, the Southeast Side could become a gathering place for people of all races and income levels.
“We’ve been studying Rogers Park, and we want to duplicate what has happened in Rogers Park, because we think it is a wonderful, eclectic mix of many cultures,” she says.
“We think we have the same kind of opportunity here.”
This post concludes Ward Room's tour of the 7th Ward. We'll begin touring the 22nd Ward, home to Ald. Munoz, next week.