eTOD Briefs

How History and Culture Impact Equitable Transit-Oriented Development

On Chicago’s far South Side resides the community of Pullman. Declared a U.S National Monument by President Barack Obama in 2012, the historic community was originally created to support the 20,000 employees of the Pullman Company that developed railroad sleeper cars. However, when a depression led to a strike in the late 1800’s, along with the eventual shut down of the steel mills and Pullman Company, the community suffered a great loss both in its population and assets. Property values fell sharply by 25%, homes were in disarray or abandoned altogether, employment was down, and poverty increased by 19%.

Today, Pullman is on the rise. It has become a unique and diverse community that boasts of historic architecture and has been recognized by the American Planning Association as one of the nation’s 10 Great Neighborhoods. Previously lacking access to affordable and nutritious food, Pullman now houses a Walmart and has brought in food distribution companies such as a Whole Foods Distribution Center and Gotham Greens. The Pullman Neighborhood Retail Center also provides opportunities for local entrepreneurs and small business to access resources, all made possible through the work of community leaders, activists, and organizations such as Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives (CNI).


A view of the historic Pullman National Monument clock tower.

The transformation of Pullman is a prime example of how preserving the history and culture of a community is essential to maintain a neighborhood’s unique cultural characteristics. In a webcasted community workshop on April 2nd, 2019, CNT’s Drew Williams-Clark and Peter Haas with guest speaker Ciere Boatright, Vice President of Real Estate and Inclusion at Chicago Neighborhoods Initiatives (CNI), discussed how the history and culture of communities can impact equitable transit-oriented development (eTOD), ultimately fueling revitalization.

Since 2010, CNI has been revitalizing underserved and distressed urban neighborhoods, leveraging resources to drive economic development and transform communities. Wearing multiple hats as a community developer, lender, partner and advocate, CNI creates jobs by developing high impact projects, providing financial resources to entrepreneurs, and sustaining long-term community partnerships. Building on Pullman’s existing community’s assets, CNI led an integrated strategy through investments in land, housing, infrastructure, institutional strength, industrial and retail development, educational improvement, recreation and tourism, and microlending. Through this process, CNI incorporated intentional and sustained engagement with leaders and residents to meet the community’s needs for economic security through the creation of employment opportunities, increased workforce development, and increased access to local and national retail.

ETOD benefits communities by creating more affordable housing, increasing access to quality jobs, spurring economic activity, increasing the spending power of the community, and creating walkable neighborhoods that are safer, healthier, and happier. By revealing these numerous benefits, through the use of the Social Impact Calculator, CNT can help developers and decision-makers create communities with eTOD in mind. In response to the community’s needs and in a desire to utilize its strengths, CNI partnered with Pullman Arts and Artspace to create Pullman Artspace, a mixed-use affordable housing project that provides a home and workspace for artists and their families. Ciere Boatright explained that through the use of CNT’s Social Impact Calculator she was able to make a compelling case for Low Income Housing Tax Credit funding to support the Artspace development.

The revitalization and success of the Pullman community is a compelling example of what can happen when planners, developers, and community leaders leverage a neighborhood’s history, culture, and other assets to not only preserve its diversity and unique character, but also strengthen its socio-economic capital. Beyond its architectural significance, Pullman played an important role in the history of urban design, transportation, labor and race relations. Understanding and preserving the cultural makeup of a community and its history ultimately helps to shed new light on tough problems, overcome or prevent racial and ethnic divisions, and enrich the broader community.

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