Retail Justice

Posted on: April 24th, 2014

Photo of Jennifer Clark
By Jennifer Clark, Associate Vice President of Campus and Community Planning

One of the roles I play is working on development projects at the campus edge. That is to say, my work happens at the physical place where the Loyola Lakeshore Campus (LSC) and the neighborhoods of Chicago intersect. I am in the middle of decisions about Loyola buying property, demolishing buildings, closing streets, and building new buildings. I am the one asked why Loyola is expanding and what our vision is for the neighborhood. I am the one accused of gentrifying Rogers Park or diluting its diversity.

In order to survive community relations at Loyola, I have to be fueled by tension. I think that the best way to do justice in my position is simply to always keep justice issues on the table. I never stop listening to justice concerns and I always share what I learn. I cannot guarantee that there will never be conflicting priorities but I can promise that I will always take justice issues very seriously. Sometimes I think the struggle for justice and the fact that neighborhood problems keep me awake at night is a sign that I’m doing it right. If it were easy, if there were no tension, if there weren’t conflicting priorities, there would be no diversity. And, we all benefit from neighborhood diversity.

Often, I am in the position of defending Loyola’s social justice priorities as they relate to campus development and it is a role that I take seriously. There are over 15,000 students and a few thousand faculty and staff. There are equally that many opinions about what role Loyola should play in economic development. Plus, there are about 100,000 neighborhood residents attentive to every decision as a reflection of Loyola’s commitment to social justice.

How do we balance the desire for local businesses with the expectations of those students who desire what is familiar? How are we financially prudent if we have businesses struggling to pay the rent? How do we compete for the affection of high schoolers visiting every interesting college town in the Midwest while being true to the ethos of the neighborhood?

I have no magic solution. I have some ideas, though.

We will recruit national chains to new construction buildings because they demand the highest rent. We will encourage destination businesses along Sheridan Road because it has the high traffic visibility to attract the most customers. We will discount rent in older buildings to attract mom-and-pops. We will design the Montserrat (the new development adjacent to the Loyola CTA station) as transit-oriented, to encourage environmentalist pedestrian commuters to the types of shops that serve non-drivers. We will focus Granada Center on the types of businesses that are the most campus-oriented.

Additionally, I have been working with USGA to establish a social justice scorecard for potential retail tenants. The scorecard asks potential businesses to evaluate themselves on the justice issues that matter to Loyola students. I think that if I were a business owner and I knew that the Loyola students, my landlords and customers, cared about environmental sustainability and workers’ rights, I would want to give them what they want. I have a lot of faith in the scorecard.

Every couple of months, I do a gut-check. I talk to USGA. I talk to my colleagues. I count. How many independent businesses? How many minority owners? How many national chains? How many environmental leaders? What about this place? What do students think about that place? Maybe I should call this guy. Maybe I should warn my boss about that guy.

For now, that’s how I approach justice in retail leasing. I’m open to more ideas.

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