Park Boulevard Ribbon Cutting Ceremony


Thank you, Alderman (Patricia) Dowell.

And I want to thank my friend, Mayor (Richard) Daley, for inviting me to come.

I am delighted to be here. I see progress and community where there was once crime and despair. Look around you. Years ago, living here might have been ill-advised, an act of desperation. No one wanted to start a business here. Now, business is coming back. People are buying apartments and condominiums. Renters are finding affordable housing. The neighborhood has become a welcome place for people of all incomes and situations.

I am pleased to see Starbucks over there because of what this company symbolizes. The founder of Starbucks, Howard Schultz, grew up in subsidized public housing, and rose to the top of the international financial community through hard work and an outstanding product. He never forgot that all business is local, and each business has the chance to add jobs, opportunity, and wealth to the community. And this is not true just in high income neighborhoods. It is true - powerfully true - in lower income areas that need investment and revitalization. These new businesses can help to economically integrate our communities.

There are some who think Starbucks or Jimmy Johns Sandwiches or National City Bank or Kinkos are the businesses of middle-income and wealthy Americans�that they don't belong near public housing. I reject that narrow thinking. They add choice, opportunity, and security to a neighborhood. They are symbols of prosperity, and that is good to see in any neighborhood, especially this neighborhood. They are also engines of prosperity and can ignite the forces of revitalization by their presence and their trade.

Today, with this new mixed-income neighborhood, we witness a visionary transformation. Years ago, public housing facilities were islands of poverty within a city. Years ago, public housing was plagued by crime, drug-dealers, violence, and fear. This was true in Chicago and in many other cities. For those living in public housing, safety and security seemed distant, as if part of another world. And indeed, it was another world, a world of gentrification, higher incomes, higher-priced housing, and a large choice of shops and restaurants.

You and I remember. This very spot symbolized the frustration of public housing. Robert Taylor and Stateway Gardens were held up as models of misfortune, the very picture of failure. People wrote studies and books about the problems in Bronzeville, not its promise. And there was considerable worry that public housing everywhere was becoming a trap, with people stuck there, with no hope of financial mobility or upward movement. And we worried that this trap was intergenerational, sustained and chained by the nature of public housing itself.

There was a cycle of poverty that needed to be broken.

For many years, housing advocates and government officials have wanted an approach to public housing that eliminated the barriers and borders between public housing and the rest of the city. We wanted public housing that was livable, safe, secure, and crime-free. And we wanted more than this - we wanted public housing to be motivational and inspirational, creating a powerful set of forces for freedom, empowerment and financial stability.

I am so impressed by what I see today. Many people are responsible for this transformation. I know it has been a community effort involving residents, the housing authority, local businesses, and government officials on all levels.

I particularly want to thank the Mayor for his visionary leadership in providing affordable, sustainable public housing.

I also want to thank the many people who never gave up, convinced that we could create a positive and powerful partnership for change.

I thank the White Sox Baseball Team and other neighbors who stepped up to the plate.

I have a special thanks to the Illinois Institute of Technology, which contributed so much of its expertise.

I thank the businesses who moved in here and the residents who fearlessly fought for change.

And I thank all of you for keeping the faith.

I am particularly proud that HUD was able to provide $3 million for this revitalization.

It takes more than organizing, financing, planning, and execution to transform public housing�it takes steadfast will and determination. And you did it.

Mr. Mayor, I am sure you would agree, we wanted public housing that was proudly part of the community, a recognition that people in public housing belong to our community and are our neighbors and friends. We didn't want public housing to be a form of economic segregation. We didn't want it to be a stigma for those who lived there. We wanted it to be a step toward a better life.

Today we see the future. Park Boulevard is a mixed-income community with teachers, policemen, service providers, transportation workers, artists, students, bankers, baseball players, musicians, government employees, lawyers, and doctors.

All of these people, and people from all income groups, make a community, and make the community work.

Today, I see a real community. Park Boulevard is a success story�a story that can be replicated around the country.

Again, thank you, Alderman Dowell.

I look forward to the other speakers and their stories.

And, Mr. Mayor, I'd like to buy you a cup of coffee�Do you want vente or grande?

Content Archived: December 27, 2011