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A portrait of the artist as a young real estate developer

Used to be, artists hungry for affordable studios and apartments made a bee-line for underused urban spaces that no one else wanted. They cut deals with sympathetic or opportunistic landlords, zoning codes be damned.

Architectural rendering of the planned Chicago Housing Authority redevelopment.


Think lower Manhattan 45 years ago, or parts of Chicago’s Near North Side. The gentrification that followed had less to do with the development instincts of the artists and more with the new businesses that catered to them (bars, restaurants) or reflected their work (galleries).

In the Grand Crossing neighborhood, on Chicago’s South Side, Theaster Gates—an artist with a background in urban planning—is taking a different approach.

After rehabbing a place in the neighborhood for himself, he looked around and saw potential for acquiring—at attractive prices in a down housing market—and fixing up other buildings for artists, with the aim of creating a community, rather than just allowing one to happen.

Since then, he’s rehabbed a few other houses on the 6900 block of South Dorchester and is working with Landon Bone Baker Architects, Brinshore Development and the Chicago Housing Authority to transform an abandoned 36-unit low-rise CHA project into affordable rentals for artists and CHA residents.

He also created the Rebuild Foundation to foster such work in other cities. If successful, this model could be a critical addition to the community development playbook.

To read more, check out this report in The Atlantic Cities website

Keywords: commercial corridor, community engagement

Posted in Chicago, Affordable Housing, Arts & Culture, Thinking Out Loud

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