South Side resident and developer Ghian Foreman wants to ensure that the Obama Presidential Center spurs regeneration in the neighborhoods that surround Jackson Park.
Earlier this month, Foreman was named as the first CEO of the Emerald South Economic Development Collaborative, which aims to foster investment and development that benefits all residents and business owners on the South Side – but especially in Woodlawn, Washington Park and South Shore.
Foreman, who grew up in Hyde Park, was for eight years the executive director of the Greater Southwest Development Corp. and has a track record of investing to rebuild economically challenged communities.
He also wears many hats and was named president of the Chicago Police Board after then-president Lori Lightfoot stepped down from her post to run for mayor.
Foreman earned a Master of Business Administration from the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business and cites the Nobel Prize-winning economist John Forbes Nash when he asserts that everyone can benefit from development if it is done right.
“Nash won a Nobel Prize for the Nash Equilibrium, which is a formula that says that within a negotiation there is a point at which all parties win,” Foreman said. “We have world class economists who are in our backyard who can help us with that equation … [and] now we have an opportunity where we can translate it into a language where we can see a healthy 63rd Street or a healthy Cottage Grove, or King Drive or Garfield Blvd.”
When asked what the communities surrounding the site of the planned presidential center most lack, Foreman has a one-word answer.
“Investment,” he said. “I think that everything that goes into having a healthy community takes investment. You have to invest in schools and real estate, after-school programs. In the arts, in safety. It’s going to take investment.”
One of Foreman’s goals is to change how people view the South Side, both from without and within.
“On the South Side we are proud of being from the South Side,” he said. “So we want to change the vocabulary so that we don’t just hear negative things about our community.”
He hopes that the creation of the presidential center will change not only how investors view the area but also residents.
“The biggest bang for the buck is the community seeing itself in a different way,” Foreman said. “The community having pride in itself and welcoming people in to the community.”
He notes that when his grandmother moved to Bronzeville in the 1920s, it was a vibrant community, even if it did suffer from discrimination and residential segregation.
“My grandmother came to Chicago in the mid-1920s from Denver – so her great migration was from Denver, but the KKK chased them out nonetheless,” he said. “Because of redlining, we were forced to live in certain neighborhoods, so you had doctors and lawyers – my family were the pastors – living next door to teachers and police officers.
“So if I’m a little kid and I don’t have a good role model, then I am still in close proximity to somebody who I could look up to,” he continued. “How does one aspire to be a doctor if you don’t know a doctor?”
One downside to economic development and investment can be gentrification, where long-term residents find themselves being priced out of neighborhoods that they have long called home.
But Foreman said he thinks everyone can benefit from change.
“We have to have honest communication,” he said. “There are some families who want top dollar so they are willing to sell … There are some people who want to maintain and grow affordable housing. I think we can come up with a formula where we can have it all.”
Foreman joins Phil Ponce to discuss his new role as CEO of the Emerald South Economic Development Collaborative.