I am spending the day at the Bronzeville/Black Metropolis Heritage Area Summit II, “Owning the Change” here at The Cell. This involves the various community planning initiatives and heritage tourism initiatives that have grown out of the Black Metropolis Historic DIstrict (National Register 1986, Chicago Landmark 1996) and the Black Metropolis Convention and Visitors Bureau. I moderated a panel on “Town and Gown” with old friend Leroy Kennedy from IIT, Laura Rounce from Illinois College of Optometry, and (also old friend) Susan Campbell from U of C. We talked about the evolving relationship between universities and their neighborhoods. Both U of C and IIT spent the 1950s treating their neighborhoods like a disposable resource “land bank” and demolishing buildings at will. Indeed, one of our great ironies is that the premier landmark of IIT – Crown Hall – sits on the site of the Mecca, one of the great buildings of Bronzeville.
We just had a breakout session on preservation, and our big recommendation was “more historic districts!” We discussed preservation tax incentives, the excellent Greystone Initiative that Neighborhood Housing Services developed for Lawndale, and how buildings can qualify for landmark status. I am always amazed at how little people know about the various levels of landmarks. As this blog always notes, the National Register of Historic Places adds NO REGULATION unless you ask for a tax incentive, and local Chicago Landmarks, which do add regulation but can help save a neighborhoods historic resources.
I was impressed with the desire on the part of the Bronzeville community to landmark more of the neighborhood. It made me think about the ignorance of the North Shore in contrast. Here, where there are memories of legal and social segregation, of redlining and city demolition, of exploitation and urban renewal – the preservation impulse is strong. The Bronzeville community sees preservation as a way to take back control of the community. It has always been so and I think in the future this place will be desirable and valuable. I can’t say the same for those places that shun preservation.