Greater Southwest Development Corporation (GSDC) was formed in 1974 as a result of organizing efforts to hold banks accountable for the growing disinvestment in the Chicago Lawn neighborhood. At the time, the area was experiencing violent racial conflicts and GSDC’s early efforts were largely focused on easing racial tensions and stimulating economic investment. James F. Capraro was the founding executive director of GSDC and having been a witness to the moment Martin Luther King was attacked with a brick, it pushed him to want to work with improving the community and improving quality of life. GSDC has implemented over half a billion in neighborhood development projects.
Over the years, GSDC expanded their work on economic development issues. They began doing real estate developments focusing on strip malls, grocery stores, affordable senior housing, non-profit headquarters, and a domestic violence shelter. Their mission continued to expand and at one point, the founder and Executive Director thought it would be great to have a new organization that was just focused on organizing so that GSDC and SWOP would be able to work hand in hand. “To this day, GSDC and SWOP have a very close working relationship and, in my experience, it’s rare to see an economic development nonprofit and community organizing nonprofit work together on such key issues due to the likelihood of butting heads, but our original vision was sound, and I am proud of the work we have done together” Adrian Soto, current Executive Director of Greater Southwest stated.
As someone who grew up in Chicago Lawn, Adrian states that he has seen the ups and downs of the community and really wants GSDC to work with other organizations and leaders to create and retain wealth among residents. “We want our community to feel proud to live in, to feel proud to send their kids to school or start a business, invest and hire from.” To this end, GSDC continues to do work surrounding commercial corridors, real estate development, working closely with businesses to do trainings and workshops with community members.
When asked about the current issues facing the community, Adrian spoke on the problems of safety, stating that people don’t feel like this is a place where they can comfortably walk down the street, shop or browse. The future of their work lies in the plans they have been working on with the Department of Planning and City of Chicago to tackle commercial corridors, vacancies with an overall push toward a more equitable community.