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Revitalizing North Lawndale

North Lawndale on Chicago’s West Side was the first corporate home of Sears, Roebuck and Co., the of the 20th century.

But amid desegregation in the latter half of the century, white flight took hold and away flew public investment in the community.

Lawndale’s community groups are making strides to attract private and public dollars, including funding from the city’s INVEST South/West program aimed at boosting South and West Side communities held back by disinvestment.

Thinkinc. knows North Lawndale’s potential and suggested a home-run tactic to our client the Lawndale Christian  Development Corp. (LCDC): Prepare a report showing Lawndale’s challenges and opportunities and hold an attention-grabbing news conference to release the study.

We suggested LCDC commission the data-gathering experts at previous Thinkinc. client the Great Cities Institute at the University of Illinois Chicago to get the numbers for the report, and then call on other Lawndale community groups to join LCDC in making recommendations to spur a turnaround. The study was generously funded by the Polk Bros. Foundation.

On April 25, 2022, LCDC released the “Lawndale Service Area Databook” at a sold-out luncheon of the influential City Club of Chicago, with an impressive turnout of journalists and news cameras.

“We love the mayor’s INVEST South/West program and think it’s great, so we thank the mayor for that,” said Richard Townsell, executive director of the Lawndale Christian Development Corp. “But since the riots in 1968, North Lawndale has been on a downward trend in terms of population, and one thing is not going to solve it.”

Among the challenges noted in the study:

  • North Lawndale residents spend $124 million of their wages outside the community each year
  • From 2010-18, businesses added 3,000 jobs to the neighborhood, but most went to nonresidents
  • That’s partly because more than 20% of the jobs require a college degree, a credential held by just 12.7% of North Lawndale residents
  • White workers hold more than half of neighborhood jobs, while making up only 2.3% of North Lawndale residents
  • The mismatches help explain why nearly half of local households are forced to pay 50% or more of their incomes toward rent, leaving little or nothing for savings

“The most basic rule of economic development is you have to have dollars circulating in your community,” said Teresa Córdova, director of the Great Cities Institute. “North Lawndale residents have to leave the neighborhood for almost everything because almost every category of goods and services is not available. What is needed right now is to plug the leaks.”

Recommended actions came from leaders in the community: LCDC, North Lawndale Community Coordinating Council,
North Lawndale Employment Network, Sinai Chicago and New Covenant Community Development Corp. Read more about them below on Page 2 of the release Thinkinc. worked with the organizations to create.

Media headlines told the story. “Revitalizing North Lawndale will require more stores, education, to keep dollars in the community, report says,” read the Chicago Tribune headline. “New study finds ‘generations’ of disinvestment, systemic racism in North Lawndale,” the Chicago Sun-Times reported. “Lawndale has been robbed of equitable investment for generations, new study finds,” wrote Block Club Chicago. “Study illustrates struggles of North Lawndale,” WBBM Newsradio broadcast. We also received mentions on WBEZ-FM (Chicago’s NPR station) and the vaunted WVON-AM.

The report and news conference moved the Sun-Times to follow up with an editorial, “Smart investment can unlock North Lawndale’s economic potential.”

Everyone involved was pleased with the initial outcome. The city, developers, retailers and banks now have an in-depth, statistical view into they can contribute to and benefit from Lawndale’s enormous potential for growth. Hopefully, the community’s turnaround will begin as quickly as possible.

Thinkinc. is grateful to be working with LCDC to turn an idea into a captivating story. We believe in collaboration, in dreaming big and in dynamic execution. And we look forward to many more shared victories to come.