Renowned Chicago urban planner Daniel Burnham once famously said, “Make no small plans.” The ambitious redevelopment of a former U.S. Steel Mill on Chicago’s South Side is no exception. In what has become a familiar narrative for former industrial sites, the 600-acre South Works is planned to be a mixed-use development the size of the Loop, Chicago’s downtown area.
A view of the Chicago's downtown from the Lakeside site
The Lakeside project, with a twenty-five to forty-five year development timeline, will provide 14,000 new homes, 17.5 million square feet of retail space, a scientific research park, a charter school and a new marina on Lake Michigan. Once home to U.S. Steel’s South Works, the largest steel mill in the country, the site employed as many as 20,000 people, before being shuttered in 1992. As ambitious as this city-within-a-city sounds, it remains to be seen if the significant concerns surrounding the development’s impact will be addressed. Of course financing such a project is an enormous challenge, and the City of Chicago is helping, both with the construction of a new park and the extension of Lake Shore Drive, as well as a ninety-eight million dollar subsidy in the form of Tax-Increment-Financing (TIF) dollars. The city’s subsidy is contingent upon twenty percent of the housing being set aside as affordable, and will not be released until a certain percentage of the retail space has already been leased.
South Works site from the air
Beyond financial concerns, the contemporary social and environmental challenges of developing a project of this scale on a former industrial site cannot be ignored. Over seventy-five percent of the site is to be built on slag, a byproduct of steel production. Additionally, social justice advocates worry a shiny new luxury development will displace current low-income residents and neighbors of the project. With the project only in it’s first phase of development, it remains to be seen whether this ambitious plan, based on New Urbanist principles, will fulfill the last bit of Burnham’s lakefront dream, or enable further gentrification and displacement in a neglected community.
What other risks do large-scale redevelopments pose?
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