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New Rebuilding Models are Critical for Revitalization Success in 61605 By Cheryll Boswell

Like other cities regardless of size, Peoria is challenged to create revitalization in communities that have declined and have had little to no economic investment over the past three or four decades. Many of these declining communities across the country including Peoria’s Southside are in dire need of economic growth. They have populations that are primarily African American, majority of the resident’s income borders poverty, they’re older in age, have a housing stock that is dilapidated, and they have a high unemployment rate. Many, including Peoria’s Southside have seen setbacks in growth after urban renewal and school desegregation plans failed.

Recently Peoria was awarded $57 million for economic development in the city. 10 million from the State for redevelopment and revitalization along MacArthur Highway. An area that has been disinvested for decades. $47 million from the Federal government’s American Rescue Plan. Of the $47 million, City Council voted to use $10 million to curtail furloughs of non-union employees and eliminate issuing additional working cash bonds. The other $37 million can be spent in several areas that include broadband Infrastructure, water and sewer infrastructure, public health and economic stabilization for households and businesses. Kudos to the grant writers, local State Representatives, and those understanding the needs of Peoria’s low-income areas. This kind of funding helps elected officials and city managers sleep a little better at night, especially after some extremely tough budget years compounded by a global pandemic.

$57 million is enough money to have a monumental impact for Peoria’s Southside. Now the question is how and where will those dollars be spent over the next few years? Will disinvested neighborhoods truly benefit from this funding? Will areas with low incomes, 40% poverty rates, that’s 90% minority, and dilapidated housing stock benefit? Are local residents ready for change?

Funding of this kind offers incredible opportunities for some type of urban regeneration that makes the Southside of Peoria a place that people want to live and work. Balanced redevelopment and affordable homeownership opportunities are critical to strengthening and growing Peoria’s Southside. While affordable housing is the buzz theme for improving the neighborhoods in the Southside, it can’t be mistaken with public housing. Public housing was a critical piece of the urban renewal and school desegregation models used in the late 60’s.

Urban renewal was a redevelopment plan backed by millions of dollars from the federal government, that local municipalities used to clear blighted areas in the city that were deemed slums. Residents living in slum neighborhoods were relocated into areas with better housing. Most often relocating into neighborhoods with higher concentrations of white residents. For some that meant moving from the black section of 61605 to the white housing section in 61605. Areas between what is now Kumpf Boulevard and MacArthur Highway were predominately black in the 50’s thru the early 70’s. During this same time areas around Harrison Homes were predominately white. In Peoria, the last major urban renewal or urban revitalization took place in the late 60’s and early 70’s. Black residents and homeowners were relocated from parts of 61605 with the promise of new housing. This made way for commercial development. Namely the Civic Center. The urban renewal model and school desegregation model failed in Peoria and failed nationally. It was the demise of neighborhoods in Peoria’s Southside.

Desegregating schools was part of Peoria Public School then District 150 school board plan to bring “quality and equality education” to public schools. Black students were bused to white schools as a way to eliminate all white schools in parts of the city. This plan derailed before it began. Five years after the desegregation program started public schools were more segregated. Minority student enrollment increased by 30% and white student enrollment dropped by 19%. This was the beginning of white flight out of Peoria Public Schools and Southside neighborhoods.

New perspectives, changed expectations, and new rebuilding models are critical for revitalization success in the 61605 area. We cannot allow the city the opportunity to nickel and dime $37 million away and a few dollars get sprinkled around 61605. Residents in 61605 must envision and expect a neighborhood that is safe and desirable.

Currently the City is seeking input from Peoria residents on how to utilize the $37 million.

You can submit your response to Engage Peoria « City of Peoria, Illinois (peoriagov.org)