Elevated Visions and Displaced Communities

By Kristina Rodriguez, Policy Innovator

How Chicago’s 606 elevated park and trail sparked a new debate about community development and gentrification.

On June 6, 2015 local businesses, non-profits and Chicagoans from across the city gathered upon the reclaimed Bloomingdale Trail to celebrate the opening of the 606 — Chicago’s first elevated park and bike trail. On the streets below, activists and local residents feared for the future of their homes and communities surrounding the trail.

Inspired by the New York City Highline, Chicago City officials put forth a proposal in 2004 to apply for project funding. The proposal also led to the creation of the Friends of the Bloomingdale Trail — a community organization tasked with leading the 606 development efforts. Over the next decade, the organization cultivated a strong alliance between the City of Chicago, the Chicago Park District and the Trust for Public Land. These organizations worked together diligently to host community meetings and craft the park design.

Map of the 606 Trail and Surrounding Communities

 Source: http://www.the606.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/The606_printable_map.pdf

Source: http://www.the606.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/The606_printable_map.pdf

The 606 also became a signature project for Mayor Rahm Emmanuel, who called for the creation of 800 new parks and green spaces around the city. His administration’s support helped solidify the development as a viablepublic-private partnership and sparked enthusiasm across the city.

Unfortunately, not all residents were fervently supportive of the project. For several years preceding the 606 grand opening, residents became increasingly aware of skyrocketing rents and median home sales prices — some as much as 52%. To them, this was an indication that the trail could eventually push them out of their homes. Rising property values would most negatively affect low-income, Hispanic households along the western half of the trail where 60% of households earned less than $50,000.

In response to growing resident fears, community advocates led by the Logan Square Neighborhood Association began campaigns for measures like tax abatement programs to help residents stay in their communities. The campaigns continue to research best practices for preserving affordable housing in the surrounding neighborhoods and the long-term impacts of development in these communities remains to be fully assessed.

However, as similar projects pick up steam across the country, the fight for equitable development continues. Innovative solutions for maintaining affordable housing and stabilizing communities will become paramount if we imagine a world of progress for all.