The RTA, in partnership with the City of Chicago’s Department of Planning and Development, is working with the Auburn Gresham community on a 79th Street Corridor Plan between South Vincennes Avenue and South Ashland Avenue. A secondary study area will include a portion of the South Halsted Street corridor from South 77th Street to South 83rd Street. The plan will focus on ways to strengthen community land use, housing, office/retail, open space, and connectivity to transit along West 79th Street and adjacent blocks. The public planning process will produce a document with implementation items based on public engagement, a transportation/mobility analysis, and a housing and office/retail market analysis. The study will also focus on corridor development, including land use, street design recommendations, and urban design guidelines. The plan is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2023.
The result will be a community-led vision for the future of the corridor that builds on multiple initiatives already underway, including:
- Construction of the new Metra Auburn Park station in the area of West 79th Street and South Wallace Street on Metra’s Rock Island Line.
- The South Halsted Bus Corridor Enhancement Project, a partnership between the CTA and Pace Suburban Bus to improve transit along approximately 11 miles of South Halsted Street, from West 79th Street south to the Pace Harvey Transportation Center.
- Construction of a renewable energy and urban farm campus at 650 West 83rd
- A new Healthy Lifestyle Hub at 839 West 79th Street, as an adaptive reuse of an existing building, designed to create new jobs and retail.
- A recently released Request for Proposals issued by the City of Chicago for mixed-use development on 23,000 square feet of vacant land at 838 West 79th
Michael Horsting, Manager, Local Planning, for the RTA, said the plan could have an impact on what the corridor looks like for years to come.
“One exciting component is we’re going to help the community think through design guidelines as development continues into the future,” Horsting said. “Things like how that development takes place, what it looks like, where it’s positioned—guidelines related to the public realm.”
There will be multiple opportunities for residents to provide input and feedback on the plan, whether that’s in meetings or via surveys, but one key component of the planning process is a steering committee of about 15 residents, business owners, and a few agency staff members serving as an information resource on the planning process. Leaders within the Greater Auburn Gresham Development Corporation (GAGDC) are taking the lead in organizing the committee, ensuring that the final plan addresses and serves the needs of the community.
“Our first milestone was just to put together a steering committee,” said Norma Sanders, Director of Special Initiatives for GAGDC, adding that the committee’s first meeting was at the end of May. “We’ve been the quarterback for the corridor for a while. When you think about the corridor plans we’ve seen recently—the one in Pullman and some of the others—we’ll collectively come up with this beautiful thing that lays out what everybody hopes for the community and the corridor.”
Carlos Nelson, CEO of GAGDC, said community engagement is a key factor in what has made his organization’s plans for the neighborhood so successful. Without engagement, plans are less likely to see implementation.
“Our quality-of-life plans that were led by the community, voiced by the community—those plans that were truly ground-up plans with strategies and tasks to implement—90 percent of those tasks have come to fruition,” Nelson said. “The people have to feel a part of something. Momentum is mass times velocity. Residents make up the mass. The larger the amount of residents that are moving these efforts forward, the more likelihood we’ll fully really realize the goals for the planning process.”
Auburn Gresham is one of the City of Chicago’s INVEST South/West target areas. INVEST South/West is a community development initiative to marshal the resources of multiple City departments, community organizations, and corporate and philanthropic partners toward 12 commercial corridors within 10 South and West Side community areas. Through this collaboration, the City has aligned more than $1.4 billion in public and private investment. The initiative is providing support for small businesses, creating public realm improvements, restoring historic buildings, and fostering equity and resilience.
Nelson said so far, he’s feeling positively about the corridor plan and has high hopes for the project.
“Part of the excitement is GAGDC really focuses on social determinants of health and the lack of equity therein, and access to transit is one of the great equalizers,” Nelson said. “So I’m really hoping that what comes out of this is a plan that addresses the needs of the residents while incorporating the expertise of engineers and the planners from the RTA. Bringing these groups together will result in improved equity to transit options for South Side residents as we continue to build our community to the next phase.”