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The University and the City
A Centennial View of the
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Citizens' Mass Meeting, Hyde Park Community Council, handbill, March 27, 1952

Citizens' Mass Meeting, Hyde Park Community Council, handbill, March 27, 1952. Called to address the issue of increasing neighborhood crime, a meeting of 2,000 Hyde Park residents at Mandel Hall led to the formation of the South East Chicago Commission.

 

"Composite of Blight Factors," Map no. 11, from South East Chicago Renewal Project No. 1 (Chicago: South East Chicago Commission, 1954).

"Composite of Blight Factors," Map no. 11, from South East Chicago Renewal Project No. 1 (Chicago: South East Chicago Commission, 1954). The urban renewal effort in Hyde Park focused on deteriorated properties bordering 55th Street and Lake Park Avenue.

The University Neighborhood

Renewal and Revival
By the late 1940s, economic and demographic changes had worn the social fabric of Hyde Park-Kenwood, raising fears that the neighborhood would be undermined by the deteriorating property and flight of residents that were already widespread in the surrounding areas. Maintenance of commercial and residential buildings had been postponed during the decade of the depression and the years of World War II. Buildings formerly occupied by middle- and upperclass families had been subdivided into small one- and two-room apartments and allowed to decline. As the density of poor residents rose, so did the problems of poverty and crime.

At the University, administrators faced a sixty percent drop in student applications in the early 1950s and increasing difficulties in recruiting faculty. Rumors spread that the University was considering moving its campus out of Hyde Park. The Board of Trustees and administrators decided to intervene aggressively in the neighborhood before, as President George W. Beadle was to put it, "they ... ended up with a $200 million investment in a slum, without anybody to do research or any students to educate."

Organized action to improve the neighborhood was launched in 1949 with the formation of the Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference (HPKCC). Drawing heavily for support on local churches and synagogues, the Conference chose a Unitarian minister as its first chairman. From the start, the Conference also maintained an interracial membership and addressed the tensions of race relations along with the problems of housing and crime. The emphasis of its programs was on assuring the neighborhood's future as a stable, prosperous, and integrated community.

In 1952, the University made its principal commitment to neighborhood renewal. A mass meeting called to discuss crime resulted in the appointment of a Committee of Five headed by University Chancellor Lawrence A. Kimpton and including community leaders such as Rabbi Louis L. Mann of Sinai Temple. The Committee in turn proposed the creation of a new coordinating organization to deal with the problems of Hyde Park and Kenwood as well as Oakland to the north and Woodlawn to the south. Accordingly, the South East Chicago Commission (SECC) was formed with Chancellor Kimpton as its chairman and Julian H. Levi, a corporate attorney and brother of Law School dean Edward H. Levi, as its executive director. The goals of the SECC were to increase police protection, enforce building codes, promote residential stability, and draw up a plan for the redevelopment of Hyde Park's most seriously deteriorated areas. Although the HPKCC and the SECC were often at odds over matters of policy, they shared a common interest in confronting controversial issues such as poverty, crime, residential displacement, urban planning, and racial integration, which few other urban communities in the early 1950s had addressed.


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