The Garfield Park Community Council is a community-building organization made up of dedicated residents and allies working together to develop leaders and create opportunities and programs that build a vital Garfield Park community.
The Garfield Park Community Council (GPCC) was created in 2005 as part of a Quality-of-Life planning process through LISC Chicago and the Garfield Park Conservatory Alliance that engaged more than 400 residents and stakeholders. GPCC become an independent non-profit organization in 2012, focusing on resident-led initiatives in core program areas: housing, business development, wellness, and leadership.
As the organization and the community have faced more opportunities and challenges. Since 2012, GPCC developed and implemented more than 60 local projects with at least 50 partner organizations and facilitated more than $50 million in community investment, an outgrowth of the original comprehensive approach to improving the quality of life for neighborhood residents. GPCC has become a leader in community development initiatives on the West Side and engages various public and private institutions, including private developers, law enforcement, city officials, and funders, to ensure that community residents are involved in new projects and policies.
Garfield Park, originally called Central Park along with its centerpiece park and lagoon, was largely settled by Irish and German railroad workers who worked for the Galena and Chicago Union Railroad.
In 1881, the Jens Jensen-designed park and surrounding neighborhood was renamed in honor of President James A. Garfield, who had recently been assassinated. The landmark Garfield Park Conservatory, also designed by Jensen, was completed in 1907 and the construction of the Lake Street el in the early 1900s also brought new commercial development to the neighborhood. By 1930, the population had grown to more than 63,000. But the Depression and World War II took a toll on the community.
The construction of the Eisenhower Expressway in the late 1950s displaced residents from the southern end of the community. At the same time, African Americans who were being crowded out of the South and Near West sides of the city began renting or buying housing in Garfield Park. Three new affordable housing developments: Harrison Courts, Maplewood Courts, and Rockwell Gardens, opened in the community. In 1966, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. came to town, leading to resident-organized efforts to improve the community. A group calling itself the East Garfield Park Union to End Slums led rent strikes and picketed irresponsible landlords. Another group called the East Garfield Park Cooperative pushed for grocery stores and better housing. A coalition of clergy and residents successfully fought off efforts to build more public housing in the neighborhood.
The tragic assassination of Dr. King on April 4, 1968 dealt a blow to Garfield Park and the West Side of Chicago. Anger and frustration with civic leaders and unjust systems led to the rapid destruction of many businesses along the Madison Street commercial corridor. In total, 210 badly burned and damaged buildings had to be demolished. Business owners and residents left the neighborhood. According to the 2019 Census Bureau Data, about 33,700 people currently live in East Garfield Park and 34,000 in West Garfield Park, about two-thirds the number who had called the community home at its peak in 1950.
Today Garfield Park is a neighborhood poised for change and ready to celebrate its considerable assets – accessible and multiple transportation options, proximity to Chicago’s Loop, high quality housing stock, and strong neighborhood educational and community institutions.
As a diverse community of stakeholders, we envision that East and West Garfield Park will become an attractive, healthy, vibrant, family-friendly community whose residents are empowered and fully engaged in its sustainability.