University, city leaders celebrate SECCs 50th anniversaryBy Peter Schuler
This evening we honor giants, said President Randel in greeting Mayor of Chicago Richard M. Daley and 350 other guests who gathered Thursday, May 9, in Hutchinson Commons for the 50th Annual Dinner of the South East Chicago Commission.
Randel presented awards of special recognition to the late Mr. Julian Levi and to the late Mayor Richard J. Daley. Levis daughter Kay Pick and Mayor Daley accepted the awards on behalf of their fathers.
In an evening of history and emotion, the room was filled with individuals and representatives of organizations who have been at the forefront of a dramatic revival of the mid-South Side during the past 50 years. Also honored were outgoing SECC president D. Gale Johnson, the Eliakim Hastings Moore Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus in Economics and the College, who has served as president for 22 years and will be succeeded by Valerie Jarrett, Executive Vice President of The Habitat Company and Chair of the Board of Directors of the Chicago Transit Authority; Bishop Arthur Brazier, pastor of the Apostolic Church of God and Chairman of the Woodlawn Preservation and Investment Corp. and the Fund for Community Redevelopment and Revitalization; former Hyde Park Alderman Leon Despres; Shirley Newsome, chair of the North Kenwood/Oakland Community Conservation Council; former University Vice President Jonathan Kleinbard; Associate Director of the Center for School Improvement Sara Spurlark; parks advocate Nancy Hayes; and Regents Park developer Bruce Clinton.
Founded in 1952, the SECC launched the first urban renewal program in the United States in an economically depressed, 48-acre area that extended from 39th Street to 67th Street and from Cottage Grove Avenue to Lake Michigan. Its principal focus was on commercial and residential blocks in Hyde Park and South Kenwood.
Levi, who was then a prominent Chicago lawyer and later a Professor of Urban Studies in the Law School, became the first SECC executive director. Levi led the highly ambitious undertaking with strong support from Richard J. Daley.
The enormous and often contentious redevelopment program called for wide-scale acquisition and demolition of deteriorated and sub-standard homes as well as businesses, which were replaced by new homes, business districts and parks.
Over the course of the next 15 years, the sustained effort, with massive investment by the University, the city and the federal government, recreated much of Hyde Park and South Kenwood.
The SECC has expanded its operations to include a business district program in Hyde Park-South Kenwood. In addition, at the request of residents, a victim witness program now extends from 37th Street to 64th Street in the Hyde Park, South Kenwood and Woodlawn neighborhoods.
Though the methods were controversial, the urban renewal project is credited with socially and economically stabilizing a blighted and crime-ridden neighborhood and laying the groundwork for the racially integrated, mixed income community that Hyde Park/South Kenwood is today.