The Edgewater Community Council Remembered
Jack Markowski, former executive director of the Edgewater Community Council, presented a recollection and reflection on the activities surrounding what was probably ECC’s most important contribution to the history of Edgewater, Operation Winthrop Kenmore (OWK), which brought together countless volunteers to become active in community improvement and to preserve the housing of Edgewater along what Markowski called the “Spine” of Edgewater. In the late 1970s and early 1980s ECC was able to get funding to support community action in safety and housing. It was the first community to get funding from the City of Chicago Department of Planning to work on the improvement of the existing residential housing.
Markowski started with surveys to get a better understanding of what was working and what was not working in the area. The statistics set ECC in the role of information giver right at the onset. Community volunteers went door to door and reported the building types and the names of managers.
What they found was a 24 block area with 354 buildings that were 95% rental. No private construction had been done there for years. Two-thirds of the buildings were SROs, four-plus-ones and apartment hotels. Density was one of the issues as there were over 10,000 units of housing.
The Council then set up some priorities for the improvement they hoped to achieve. From the perspective of 2010, Markowski said it was important that ECC took a stand and charted a direction. Markowski described the process as Identify, Focus and Carry Through.
With the information gleaned from the surveys volunteers worked on many different fronts. Some were charged with building the community’s image while others pursued negligent owners in housing court. But the factor that brought on the most success was making available loans to building owners of many multi-unit buildings to get rehabilitation. Besides becoming a delegate agency for the City Department of Housing ECC was able to persuade the Community Investment Corporation, to loan to owners of residential housing. Another element was matching funds from Loyola University and Combined Insurance. Ed Marciniak, head of the Institute of Urban Life at Loyola mentored this project and wrote an account of its achievements, “Reversing Urban Decline”
In 1980, after a push from ECC and a presentation of community history by Leroy Blommaert, the City of Chicago created the last Community Area, #77, as Edgewater. Having this designation became the foundation of the Image building used to make the community an attractive place to live.