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Parks for All?

Architects Newspaper Ι June 2015 Ι Affordable housing battles rising rents along Chicago’s newest park. 

Chicago’s new linear park and bike corridor, The 606, opens in June. It is hotly anticipated for its potential to transform several West Side neighborhoods, but community groups have questioned who benefits from that transformation.

Some affordable housing advocates see New York City’s High Line as a herald of gentrification so severe that few tools outside of affordable housing can combat it. According to the New York City Department of City Planning, their celebrated rails-to-trails project didn’t spawn any dedicated affordable housing developments—just units added during the park’s planning and construction to market-rate developments already in the works. Also known as The Bloomingdale Trail and Park, The 606 is a more formally restrained, contextual, and neighborhood-integrated project than the High Line. Chicago’s park barely rises to meet the tops of the modest houses and two- and three-story residential buildings surrounding it. It also does without the New York project’s expressive steel structure.

Real estate prices are rising several times the city-wide average in the majority-Latino neighborhood of Logan Square that is adjacent to The 606. In a bid to maintain the ethnic and socioeconomic diversity of the Humboldt Park and Logan Square neighborhoods, Chicago designers Landon Bone Baker Architects (LBBA) will bring 43 units of affordable housing to an area along The 606. Dubbed “Tierra Linda”, the development will place three- and six-story buildings on 12 separate sites near the trail. The two- and three-bedroom units will be priced for residents making at or below 60 percent of the area’s median income. Construction is set to begin early next year.

By investing in more affordable housing, Tierra Linda’s non-profit developers, the Latin United Community Housing Association (LUCHA), hope that (compared to the High Line) the demographic and economic changes in the neighborhood will be as subtle as the aesthetic ones brought on by the new park.

“We’re serving some of the last opportunities in this area to provide affordable housing,” said Charlene Andreas, LUCHA’s Director of Building Development.

Tierra Linda is one of a half dozen affordable housing projects near The 606 that will comprise more than 300 residences, according to the city’s Department of Planning and Development.

Rising property values have strained low-income residents in the area. In Humboldt Park, 65 percent of residents were spending over 30 percent of their income on rent in 2010, according to the Chicago Rehab Network, an affordable housing advocacy group. Large-scale, market-rate housing developments, like the 100-unit Centrum 606, are springing up near The 606 as well, cutting into space for affordable housing.

“We recognize the interplay of green space and housing issues,” read a statement from Beth White, Chicago Region Director for The 606’s lead private partner, the Trust for Public Land. “So—while it is beyond our mission to set public policy around housing access—we have worked to bring together community members and policymakers to have productive discussions about these and other issues impacting the communities we serve.”

LBBA, LUCHA, and the wider network of area non-profit affordable housing advocates said The 606 will have an overall positive impact on its low-income neighbors. They said the diversity-retaining elements of affordable housing are as much a selling point as new park space, or the accompanying commercial development.

“What makes me optimistic is the amount of support that came with all of the community meetings,” said Catherine Baker of LBBA. “There were a lot of new people to Humboldt Park, and they specifically moved [there] because of the diversity; they liked the mix of incomes, and they want to keep it that way. They’re fighting for that, and they’re the newcomers.”

Despite that, a handful of affordable housing developments won’t preserve Logan Square and Humboldt Park’s current diversity forever. As they move from renters to homeowners, newcomers may prioritize new kinds of housing. But The 606 itself might be the neighborhood’s best hope for keeping gentrifiers cognizant of why they chose a place that cuts across class and racial boundaries—it’s possible that a stroll along the park will inspire a more accommodating place, not a more exclusive one.

“The city is so segregated, and here’s an opportunity where we have both ethnic and economic diversity,” said Lucy Gomez-Feliciano of the Logan Square Neighborhood Association, an affordable housing community agency. “What we have now is good, but it’s very fragile.

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