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Table of Contents > Chapter 11

South Lakefront (continued)

But Hyde Park-Kenwood was different. While blockbusting, illegal conversions, and the spread of slums hit the area, the neighborhood did not dissolve. In 1949 the 57th Street Meeting of Friends (Quakers) began the first organized program to combat the neighborhood's problems. This was the Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference, an organization which proposed two objectives for the neighborhood: to stop decay and to promote racial integration. Another organization, the South East Chicago Commission, was organized in 1952 and was backed by more conservative elements in the neighborhood, especially the University of Chicago. These two organizations often distrusted each other and had different aims. Yet they avoided open clashes because their memberships overlapped, and ultimately they both wanted to make Hyde Park-Kenwood work. Yet by the middle 1950s, the fate of the neighborhood was still in doubt. The police district to which the neighborhood belonged had the highest crime rate in the city.

In 1954 the new Federal Housing Act set the stage for the first large-scale neighborhood urban renewal program in the nation, and it decisively determined the future of the Hyde Park-Kenwood community. Leaders in the community were familiar with the legislation because some of the legal research for the Housing Act had been done at the University of Chicago Law School. As former resident Muriel Beadle has pointed out, "much of the experience gained by both the Conference and the Commission was reflected in the new law." Unlike the communities which underwent irrevocable racial change to the north and south of it, two important factors kept Hyde Park-Kenwood integrated; it had a firm economic and institutional base in the University of Chicago and the neighborhood was already well organized. Hyde Parkers have a long tradition of being joiners. Local residents came to meetings, voiced their opinions, and supported causes. It was a factor that was often missing in other middle-class areas where residents saw decline and simply left.

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