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The next big step for historic Bronzeville

Submitted on Tue, 10/16/2007 – 12:20.
Story by Dara Belic

Community leaders are working to win a National Heritage Area designation from the National Park Service, which could mean $10 million over 10 years for Chicago’s historic Bronzeville neighborhood. The South Side community could become the 38th area in the country to receive such designation.

To earn the distinction, it should be a place where “natural, cultural, historic and recreational resources combine to form a cohesive, nationally-distinctive landscape arising from patterns of human activity shaped by geography,” as defined by the National Park Service.

And supporters say Bronzeville definitely fits the bill.

“We have 46 historic landmarks in our area,” said Harold Lucas, president of Black Metropolis Convention and Tourism Council. “There are more landmarks in Bronzeville than there are scattered throughout Chicago.”

Indeed, according to information from the Quad Communities Development Corporation, Bronzeville does fit the historic bill.

Located on Chicago’s South Side and bordered by 26th St. to the north, 47th St. to the south, Lake Michigan to the east and the Dan Ryan Expressway to the west, Bronzeville is considered one of the nation’s most significant landmarks of African-American urban history.

“Bronzeville is where jazz extraordinaire Louis Armstrong became Louis Armstrong,” said New York University Professor and tourism expert Lalia Rach, who acknowledged the importance of Negro National League Baseball founder Andrew “Rube” Foster and civil rights’ activist Ida B. Wells to the development of Bronzeville.

While Bronzeville’s historical significance earned recognition by the National Park Service, steps must be taken in order for the community to secure the official designation.

To become a National Heritage Area, a community must: establish a local management entity and steering committee; inventory all heritage assets within its boundaries; create a plan for raising the $1 million annual match and outline how those funds would be used to “promote preservation and economic development” within the proposed area.

After all of these steps are taken, a member of the U.S. Congress must pass an act establishing the community as a National Heritage Area.

Many of these tasks are near completion, Lucas said.

“We talked to our congressman, Rep. Bobby L. Rush, (D-Chicago), who said he’s looking at congressional designation by January 1, 2008,” Lucas said. “Which means we’ve got four months of hard work ahead of us.”

Community leaders with some state funding and institutional grants put together a steering committee, opened up the Bronzeville Information Visitor Center, mapped out area landmarks and historic assets and forged agreements with investment partners, Lucas said, in less than four years.

“Bronzeville has made incredibly quick progress,” said Elaine Van S. Carmichael, president of Economic Stewardship, Inc. and a facilitator at the 2005 Bronzeville Heritage Development Summit. “Two years ago, they were a bunch of people sitting around dreaming big dreams. Today, they’ve managed to put those dreams to paper.”

At the same time, the neighborhood, like many others, had issues with uncontrolled development, which Carmichael said is a serious concern for the area.

“Community leaders recognized that they had to move fast because outside development, if left unchecked, could do severe damage to Bronzeville,” said Carmichael.

The issue of “irresponsible development” is a concern in the community and for Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd), said Robert Echert, an intern for the alderman.

Condominiums and other new real estate properties have driven up prices in the housing market, making it impossible for many residents to afford to stay in the community, said Lucas of the tourism council.

Leana Flowers has worked with the Genesis House and Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) to help build affordable housing in Bronzeville. She is concerned about the impact of outside developers.

“They can lend a hindering hand in a community’s mission to create inner-wealth and economic sustainability,” Flowers said.

Instead, the community must build a strong capacity to slow down or stop outside development through investment and through the government, Lucas said.

“The goal is breaking poverty and enabling Bronzeville families to create wealth for themselves,” Lucas said. “After many years of dedication by community leaders, Bronzeville is finally nearing the attainment of that goal.”

History & Preservation Public South Side
bronzeville landmarks national heritage area

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