Vibrant communities depend on vibrant commerce. That’s the driving force behind Urban Juncture, a Bronzeville community developer that leverages cultural assets to create enterprises that employ residents, provide quality goods and services to locals and hosts events to attract visitors. Their goal: revitalize communities by reinvigorating local commerce. Food—in particular black cuisine—is a focus at Urban Juncture because President Bernard Loyd observed there was a shortage of quality food in the Bronzeville neighborhood and a lack of this type of cuisine in Chicago.
Loyd bought his first commercial building in 2005 at the intersection of the CTA Green Line and 51st Street. “Transit is essential for many folks, and locating commerce here represents a layering of amenities,” he notes. Plus, there is a flow of commuters which represents 1,000 potential customers per day from the train alone. The location on the Green Line also benefits from buses that run along 51st Street, so it’s very well served by transit. The project has been slowly growing over a decade and a half. “This is a community that has suffered disinvestment and depopulation for a half century. Fifteen years seems like a long time, but really, it’s a drop in the bucket,” noted Loyd. “We have a long way to go and need to continue to access capital and work to reshape the image of the neighborhood.”
A half-dozen enterprises are housed within Urban Juncture’s Bronzeville Cookin’ Initiative, including the Bronzeville Incubator, which is an incubation, events, and co-working space; Greenline Farm, a rooftop farm; Friistyle a unique local restaurant that combines french fries with a variety of toppings; and Bronzeville Community Garden. In addition, Urban Juncture is developing Boxville, a colorful set of shipping containers that now house a bike repair shop, a mix of mini-food shops and other vendors. Eighty percent of vendors and employees live on the South Side of Chicago, and in the height of summer, up to 40 people can be found working on-site. The development is funded by private capital in Chicago and around the U.S., including a crowdfunding offering. A community development financial institution (CDFI) is also an equity partner. The organization is also certified as 501(c)(3) to accept charitable donations. While some enterprises at the site will not be profitable, Loyd feels they are important for stabilizing the area.
One of the more prominent beautification efforts near the station is the Wall of Peace and Love mural, a community initiative led by Urban Juncture that has changed the tone of the area. Located on the east facing wall at the southwest corner of 51st Street and South Prairie Avenue, it covers 2000 sq. ft. and is just 150 feet away from the train station. Urban Juncture has also planted trees near the station, which has improved the look and feel of the corridor.
Both the garden and Greenline Farm were created to improve the vista for people exiting the train. Train riders now see lush green landscape instead of a broken-up roof. The transit platform and Greenline farm are separated by only an 18 foot-wide alley so riders on the platform are just feet away from green.
Urban Juncture facilitated placement of a Divvy bikeshare station near the Green Line stop, at 51st and Calumet, which is a last-mile resource for both patrons and staff. The Bike Box, a container-based bicycle shop adjacent to the Divvy station, repairs and refurbishes bikes and also encourages bike use among team members, vendors, and patrons.