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Big Scale of CNDA Winners Says Much about Local Development Capacity

Eric Young Smith

An unusual group of large-scale yet grassroots-inspired projects filled the winner’s circle at this year’s Chicago Neighborhood Development Awards (CNDA), new evidence of what’s possible when resources link-up with local ideas and energy.

From the Salvation Army’s spectacular Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center in West Pullman to The Community Builders’ refurbished Oakley Square housing complex spanning an entire city block on the West Side, winners of the 22nd Annual CNDA competition reflect a growing sophistication among both private and non-profit developers as they tap into the wisdom that abides in our most disadvantaged neighborhoods.

The ceremony, organized by Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) Chicago, is a rare occasion in which all of the contributors to neighborhood redevelopment – community organizers, real estate developers, architects, bankers, residents, foundation and corporate leaders and others – are in the same room. They come to recognize and celebrate Chicago’s top development projects and architectural designs in the city’s neighborhoods.

“This is an essential moment,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel told some 1,500 attendees February 18 at the Chicago Hilton & Towers. “We are one city with one future, where every neighborhood counts.”

To stress that connectedness, the mayor pointed to a new zoning program announced earlier that day in which downtown developers can build taller, denser projects than would otherwise be allowed if they contribute to developments in the neighborhoods.

 The new linkage to downtown may speed a trend already in evidence of larger, more sophisticated projects in the neighborhoods.

Whereas past CNDA winners have been typified by a single restored apartment building or corner retail center, this year’s included the massive 150,000-square-foot Method soap factory that opened last year as part of the Pullman Park development on the Southeast Side. Its state-of-the-art production lines are topped by an equally sprawling hi-tech rooftop greenhouse that yearly will produce a million pounds of fresh, pesticide-free produce for the region’s retail and restaurant markets.

Driehaus goes big

Size also mattered among winners of the annual Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Award for Architectural Excellence in Community Design, also announced at the CNDA gathering. First place went to the firm of JGMA for design of the El Centro Campus of Northeastern Illinois University. It’s a three-story, 55,000-square-foot classroom/community center whose boomerang-shape and top-to-bottom grill of blue-and-gold fins all but shouts “Golden Eagles” to motorists on the Kennedy Expressway between Addison and Belmont.  

Second place Driehaus honors went to Landon Bone Baker Architects for the Dorchester Art + Housing Collaborative. Artist Theaster Gates’ Rebuild Foundation inspired this dramatic makeover of 36 public housing townhouses on East 70th Street – a makeover featuring lofted floor plans and a soaring, sunlit arts center featuring an artisan workshop and community room/movement studio with a professional grade “sprung” hardwood dance floor. Third place went to Gensler architects for Town Hall Apartments, an adaptive re-use by Heartland Alliance of the landmark police station at the northwest corner of Halsted and Addison. Its new residential wing has 79 apartments tailored to the expressed needs of the LGBT community.

Then again, close attention to community input weighed heavily with the awards committee chaired by Deborah Bennett of the Polk Bros. Foundation, and to the 75 judges who split into teams to make site visits and final recommendations to the 15-member committee. A separate panel of 12 Driehaus Award judges was chaired by renowned architect Tom Beeby.

Winning campaigns

Three CNDA categories saluted not physical structures but unusually effective grassroots planning and/or organizing efforts.

Neighborhood group Enlace Chicago won The Chicago Community Trust Outstanding Community Plan Award for their Little Village Quality-of-Life Plan, a two-year effort that involved 650 residents and 80 partner organizations.

The Chicago for All Campaign organized by ONE Northside took The Woods Fund Chicago Power of Community Award. It was this sustained effort, in partnership with the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless and the Shriver Poverty Law Center that sped passage of a city ordinance to curb conversion of SRO hotels into luxury condos or provide compensation to the displaced.

The Chicago Youth Health Activism Initiative organized by a core group of 20 Mikva Challenge teens won a new award – The Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois Healthy Community Award. They first researched the health problems of inner-city teens, then recruited some 400 students at 40 middle- and high schools to run health fairs, after-school exercise sessions and safe-sex briefings.

Individual awards

Two community development professionals – one a dynamic young neighborhood leader, the other an accomplished government and non-profit veteran – were cited for individual achievement.

Ghian Foreman, executive director of the Greater Southwest Development Corp., took home The PrivateBank Norman Bobins Leadership Award. Foreman brings to bear the discipline and energy of his private sector experience as the Marquette Park neighborhood battles back against the damage of home foreclosures and the Great Recession.

Andrew Mooney, recently retired as Chicago’s Commissioner of Planning and Development, was honored with The Richard M. Daley Friend of the Neighborhoods Award. Mooney was saluted for a career of urban leadership, not just at City Hall and the Chicago Housing Authority, but 15 years “leading-by-listening” as executive director of LISC Chicago.

Former U.S. Rep Melissa Bean, now Midwest Chairman of JPMorgan Chase and chair of this year’s awards ceremony, saluted the winners – plus nearly a hundred entrants – when she declared: “You do the heavy lifting. Nearly everyone here tonight has been working to build the affordable housing, develop the retail centers, support better schools and push for the cultural and recreational amenities that all successful neighborhoods deserve.”

CNDA keynote speaker Julia Stasch, president of The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, credited the winners and all the runner-ups with helping to counter the kind of cynicism bred by national presidential politics.

“Stay optimistic,” Stasch said, and “resist the seduction of cynicism as you build communities where all are included, respected and supported.”

Here is a complete list of CNDA22 award winners:

The Chicago Community Trust Outstanding Community Plan Award

Enlace Chicago for the Little Village Quality-of-Life Plan

The Polk Bros. Foundation Affordable Rental Housing Preservation Award

The Community Builders for Oakley Square

The Outstanding For-Profit Development of the Year

Method Products PBC for Method’s Southside Soapbox

Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Award for Outstanding Non-Profit Neighborhood Real Estate Project

The Salvation Army for The Ray & Joan Kroc Corps Community Center

The Woods Fund Chicago Power of Community Award

ONE Northside for the Chicago for All Campaign

The Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois Healthy Community Award

Mikva Challenge for the Chicago Youth Health Activism Initiative

The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Award for Architectural Excellence in Community Design

1st Place – JGMA for Northeastern Illinois University’s El Centro Campus

2nd Place – Landon Bone Baker for Dorchester Art + Housing Collaborative

3rd Place – Gensler for Town Hall Apartments

The PrivateBank Norman Bobins Leadership Award

Ghian Foreman, Executive Director, Greater Southwest Development Corp.

 The Richard M. Daley Friend of the Neighborhoods Award

Andrew J. Mooney, former Commissioner of Planning & Development and Executive Director of LISC Chicago

Posted in Placemaking


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