By Aaron Cortez
A group of three University of Illinois at Chicago architecture students and myself are up for review to hopefully receive a $10 million grant from the City of Chicago to design this plaza in the city of East Side.
The Story of East Side
The East Side neighborhood primarily developed around industrial employment in the years leading up to World War II as major steel plants opened along the river. The community was hard hit as production declined and steel plants and related business began to close in the 1980s. Population declined as industry employees were forced to seek work elsewhere. Since then, East Side has long identified itself as the forgotten part of Chicago. Despite its history of deindustrialization and disinvestment from the city, East Side is a close-knit and proud community. Residents find support in one another and together envision the potential for their community to build on existing public spaces and their flourishing art community. The long-standing ties between the East Side Chamber of Commerce and GCI with East Side residents and community organizations provide a foundation to foster greater economic stability through intentional revitalization efforts.
The Calumet region is a disinvested and fragmented region, but it’s also a place of nationally significant natural, industrial, labor and cultural heritage assets. These assets can advance economic opportunity to enrich the lives of residents and visitors around the nation. The East Side Memorial Plaza will serve as a hub with many spokes to access the bi-state region and will be a shining example of regional sustainable development, incorporating community spaces and natural areas with strategic economic development and cultural tourism by utilizing community centered design to create a pride of place. Prior to the Chicago Prize opportunity, there hasn’t been any meaningful or large investments in the East Side for decades. The ability to leverage the prize funding with available county, state and federal programs will create momentum to not only revitalize the East Side but also create a ripple effect through the innovative programs that will benefit the entire region.