‘Chicago Tonight’ in Your Neighborhood: Recovery and Development in Hyde Park

Hyde Park on Chicago’s South Side is well known as a diverse community with a long history of notable residents and a wide array of cultural offerings. 

It’s home to the DuSable Black History Museum and Education Center, the Museum of Science and Industry, and of course, the University of Chicago. In the coming years, i’'ll have a high profile neighbor in the form of the Obama Presidential Center

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Hyde Park also has a commercial corridor that’s seen big changes with more still to come.

The community’s 53rd Street is home to many locally-owned shops, nightlife spots and restaurants. There’s been some turnover during COVID, but a lot of the small businesses have hung on — even though they’re still facing challenges. 

The local chamber of commerce said staffing shortages mean some restaurants are only open for dinner, or not open all week.

“To balance that with customers — whether or not you have a lot of customers coming in, and you can support the amount of customers that want to come in and eat … the retail shops are kind of in that same boat too. It’s a matter of they’re open, they would love to have more people walking in. I would have to say I see people all over Chicago wearing masks again,” said Phil Moy, executive director of the Hyde Park Chamber of Commerce.

Interactive map: More from our community reporting series

Health and safety are still a concern for Ja’ Grill. They’re known for their Jamaican cuisine like jerk chicken and salmon escovitch. 

General manager Alex Fowler said they’re still feeling the squeeze from the pandemic.

“Recovery has just been a little challenging in regard to our to-go, our take-out, also our dine-in. We’re not fully back to capacity and that’s just something we want to do to keep our staff and patrons safe as well,” Fowler said.

Ja’ Grill started in Lincoln Park but moved to Hyde Park eight years ago. Fowler said it’s been a welcoming community with a lot of attractions that bring people in to eat and drink at his and many other local restaurants.

“It’s really wonderful to be a part of Hyde Park … it’s home to the University of Chicago, the new Obama Foundation is about to open a library. There’s just a lot of shopping, a lot of eating… a lot to do around the neighborhood and it’s all within a four block radius as well," Fowler said.

Mallory Price of the Hyde Park Historical Society is also a big booster for the community. 

She said people sometimes overlook the neighborhood, but that they’re missing out on its culture. The society organizes a book club with local authors, and it's planning a self-guided architecture tour of buildings both old and new. 

Price said she’s never felt more at home anywhere else.

“It is such a rich and engaging place with so many interesting people, and I think it has taught me to live with awe, to pay attention to the community and the people around me because there are so many fascinating people and so much history here,” Price said.

Hyde Park itself is home to a large young adult population; about 40% is between the ages of 20 to 34.

John Murphy, board member of the Hyde Park Kenwood Coalition for Equitable Community Development, said they’ve found that many of this younger demographic is paying well above 30% of their income, amid concerns for growing rent prices.

“We’ve had twin issues going on,” Murphy said. “We’ve had the development of three or four major upper income style apartment units or condos, and we’ve had the University of Chicago remove more students from the community bringing more students on campus as they build more dormitories … the issue of affordability not only for lower income people but even for some in the upper ranges of lower income has become more and more difficult. We were able to get one or two of the developments to commit to more affordable housing units than they would normally be required.”

Video: Watch the full interview with John Murphy.

Meanwhile, part of the history the society has been working to preserve is at Oak Woods Cemetery in nearby Greater Grand Crossing, the resting place of many notable Hyde Park residents and other Chicagoans — Harold Washington, Ida B Wells, members of the Staples musical family. 

However, Price said there was also a history of discrimination at Oak Woods.

“There was discrimination even in cemetery and burial practices and we want to highlight the stories of many influential African-Americans who were denied burial there, and we’re able to finally advocate and fight to have that cemetery integrated,” Price said.

As Price and her colleagues work to document the community’s past, there’s a lot of change in its future including the much-publicized Obama Presidential Center, with all the excitement and controversy that’s come with it. 

One of Hyde Park’s alderpeople, Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th Ward), said working against displacement has been a part of the conversation since the beginning stages of the Center.

“We started early on engaging with the community by talking, meeting with residents, organizations, the Obama Foundation,” Hairston said. “We made sure that we’ve kept those conversations going. I have monthly ward meetings and someone from the Foundation is present at each meeting to keep people abreathed, to answer any questions should they arise. I think it’s really exciting to see something arising out of the ground, to see the cranes in the air and say, ‘Yes this is the South Side and this is for us.’”

Video: Watch the full interview with Ald. Leslie Hairston.

There’s also the University of Chicago’s plans for a dedicated $633 million cancer care center, which it said would be the first of its kind in the state, and one that would be especially important to this part of Chicago.

“When we look at cancer rates, cancer stage, and cancer survival for people on the South Side of Chicago, it is as poor as some countries that have very little resources. There’s very strong interest and need and we want to make sure that we bridge that gap. I think education, access to care, partnership…these are all things that a free standing cancer center can provide,” said Dr. Sonali M. Smith, chief of UChicago Medicine’s section of hematology and oncology.

That cancer center is a few years away, as is the Obama Center. But Phil Moy and other community leaders are hopeful about the hundreds of thousands of projected visitors it will bring. 

He said despite the challenges of COVID, things are looking up for small businesses.

“A lot of our new members have been smaller businesses and I think they’ve been very excited about opening in Hyde Park. Their enthusiasm is a good sign,” Moy said.

Community Reporting Series

“Chicago Tonight” is expanding its community reporting. We’re hitting the streets to speak with your neighbors, local businesses, agencies and leaders about COVID-19, the economy, racial justice, education and more. See where we’ve been and what we’ve learned by using the map below. Or select a community using the drop-down menu. Points in red represent our series COVID-19 Across Chicago; blue marks our series “Chicago Tonight” in Your Neighborhood.

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