June 20 2013

Chicago’s South Works Redevelopment Project

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.

South Works Loop View

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.

Aerial view

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?

Credit: Images and data linked to sources.

Andrew Kinaci

After graduating from Princeton University with an A.B. in Architecture and a Certificate in Urban Studies, Andrew Kinaci set out to the Midwest to break out of the insular world of academia, and into the direct service of non-profit work. After a year working on Chicago’s West Side with a social enterprise specializing in re-entry employment training for ex-felons, Andrew now works for an organization conducting energy audits of multi-family affordable housing buildings. He will be blogging about the many ways Chicago is seeking a more sustainable and equitable urban future.

This entry was posted on Thursday, June 20th, 2013 at 9:09 am and is filed under Architecture, Community/Economic Development, Environment, Government/Politics. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


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