In 2007, nearly twenty percent of the 504 Section 8 apartments that made up Woodlawn’s Grove Parc Plaza sat vacant due to damages that landlords decided weren’t worth remedying: broken windows, fire burns, collapsed roofs. In 2006, a federal inspection gave the project a dismal score of eleven out of one hundred points. Roaches and mice colonized the apartments, and the remaining residents cited robberies and malfunctioning appliances as everyday occurrences. Built in the 1960s as a privately owned alternative to public housing projects, by the 1990s Grove Parc Plaza had become emblematic of the failings that result when federal subsidies end up in the pockets of stingy property management companies instead of being funneled into property improvements.
Eight years later, the trials and tribulations of life in Grove Parc Plaza live on only in the memories of its former residents, as a new mixed-income housing development called Woodlawn Park now occupies this stretch of Cottage Grove Avenue between the University of Chicago and the terminus of the Green Line. The revitalization project, which includes several “green” mixed-income buildings, a senior residence—The Burnham—and a youth center, is currently in the third of its six phases of construction.
Planners hope that by creating housing with more economic diversity as well as access and visibility from the street, outcomes like that of Grove Parc Plaza can be avoided. Landon Bone Baker Architects say that with the development they hope to restore “historic linkages between the University of Chicago, the neighborhood of Woodlawn, Washington Park, and the CTA Green Line.”
These days, there’s no doubt that this section of Cottage Grove is tidy and well kept—there are no broken windows, graffiti, or boarded-up doorways. The lobby of one of the recently completed buildings has been painted with the Chicago flag and the slogans “Keep calm Chicago, Fight against violence” and “Woodlawn Pride.” On the surface, things are looking brighter than they have in years. Yet if anything is to be gleaned from Grove Parc Plaza, it is that the success of Woodlawn Park over the coming decades will be determined not only by its design, but, equally, by the integrity of its management.