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Plans issued from on-high have shaped, and mis-shaped, Chicago’s Near North neighborhood for over a half century. But now there’s a new plan, one guided by folks who actually live there, a plan that aims to make this close-in and remarkably diverse place a true community of mutually supportive neighbors.
The Near North Quality-of-Life Plan and Design Guidelines is being released this May following two years of research, community engagement and strategy development by members of the Near North Unity Program (NNUP), a group supported by LISC Chicago.
The plan channels the grassroots quality-of-life plans drawn up a decade ago by residents of the original 16 neighborhoods in LISC Chicago’s New Communities Network. Like those, it begins with a vision of what the neighborhood ought to be, recounts its history and assets, then specifies goals and projects along with a work plan and timeline.
But Near North’s document boasts a major first for a quality-of-life plan – a detailed set of physical design guidelines to advise prospective developers on what the community seeks before they approach the city – and the alderman – for zoning approvals and permits.
Rev. Randall Blakey, executive director of NNUP and executive pastor of LaSalle Street Church introducing the new Quality of Life plan to membership at their Feb. 23 meeting.
“These aren’t rules with force of law,” explained Randall Blakey, executive director of NNUP, “but they articulate a framework for the developer to follow if they want the support of the community.”
More than any neighborhood in the New Communities fold, Near North has been besieged of late by development proposals. From Chicago Avenue on the south to North Avenue, from LaSalle Street on the east to the Chicago River, developers have been snapping up choice parcels now that the economy is on the mend and Cabrini-Green’s public housing high-rises are no more.
Ald. Walter Burnett (27th), who five years ago enlisted the help of LISC Chicago and the MacArthur Foundation in setting up NNUP, has been asking the group to review development plans and advise him on what changes might be needed.
NNUP’s Land Use & Development Committee had been doing just that … but without giving developers advance notice on how their projects will be evaluated.
Now developers have specific guidelines -- a list of preferences that reflect the neighborhood’s impatience with overly narrow sidewalks, convenience malls fronted by unsightly parking lots and featureless condo towers rising from blockish concrete parking decks.
“What emerged from our meetings is that the community wants wider sidewalks and more people-friendly spaces where folks can gather and get to know one another,” said Scott Goldstein, a veteran planner with Teska Associates, Inc. who assisted Near North’s in writing the quality-of-life plan.
The Chicago Department of Planning and Development (DPD) helped explain zoning to the community and advised on guidelines.
Project designers are forewarned, for instance, that “parking should not be located between the building front and the (street); front yards of townhouses should be at least 15 ft. wide or 12% of lot depth; and, new construction along arterial streets should be set back far enough, from 6 to 15 feet, so that sidewalk cafes and/or sale racks don’t force pedestrians into the gutter.”
“Bring folks together”
Not that Near North’s new plan is some kind of zoning cookbook. Most of its 74 pages are devoted to community-building. And that’s no slam dunk, given the socio-economic gulf between public housing tenants and condo owners who live side-by-side in the mixed-income developments that replaced Cabrini-Green.
The plan’s strategy throughout is to build from, and multiply, successful projects already run by NNUP. The overriding goal, reminds Ald. Burnett “is to bring folks together, break down those differences and bring out how much more we have in common.”
The plan is organized around discreet chapters devoted to Community Engagement, Youth and Families, Safety, and Employment. A series of summer outdoor jazz concerts, for instance, have engaged diverse factions in NNUP’s bring-folk-together mission. Stronger community support of both Jenner and Manierre elementary schools is urged to lift student achievement. Summer basketball tournaments and activities like last summer’s “Chalk the Walk” draw goal-minded kids onto the streets and parks, making everyone safer. And, new linkages with local corporate heavies such as Groupon and non-profits like Holsten Human Capital will improve job prospects for public housing tenants.
Many agree that NNUP’s biggest challenge, going forward, will be maintaining a united front as both the city and the private sector proceed to fill the empty and/or underdeveloped spaces left in the wake of Cabrini-Green demolitions.
There’s no shortage of divisive issues: whether and where to locate a new magnet-type high school … and who gets to attend; whether to rehab dozens of long-vacant Cabrini row houses … their fate now tied-up in federal court; whether to let developers of new condos and market-rent apartments pay into a city trust fund … or insist they include city-mandated affordable units in their luxury towers.
All are wedge-type issues in a community whose main east-west thoroughfare is named, aptly, Division Street. Only now the folks of Near North have a plan. Not a plan decreed from on-high, like the one that over a half century ago cleared away what was the city’s oldest tenement district, replacing it near the lake with upscale Sandburg Village … and to the west, near the river, with the towers of Cabrini-Green.
That kind of planning is history.
“The residents and stakeholders of this extremely diverse neighborhood have found the common element that binds them and the neighborhood they call home,” said Keri Blackwell, deputy director of LISC Chicago who has supported NNUP from its beginning. “And, together, they are defining what home will look like in the future.”
Charles Smith, longtime Near North resident, NNUP charter member and an architect who helped draw up the design guidelines contained in the Near North Quality of Life Plan.
“I’ve lived here a long time,” summed up Charles Smith, an African-American architect and NNUP charter member who worked on the plan’s design guidelines. “Finally we have something to go on, something to plan around.”
NNUP plans a community release and celebration of the plan at Benchmark at 1510 N. Wells on May 20th, 6:00 p.m. - 8:30 p.m.
Candidates Alex Pattison and Brian Hopkins squared off March 24 at Columbus Elementary school, in a debate moderated by the Chicago Tribune's Hal Dardick and Greg Hinz of Crain's Chicago Business.
Thanks to CAN TV for video of the event, and to principal Wendy Anne Oleksy, organizer Steve Niketopolous and EVA co-sponsors the Noble Square Home Owners Association, the Ukrainian Village Neighborhood Association and the Wicker Park Committee.
Photos from the event are on the EVA Facebook page.
St. Boniface Church and the John Hancock Center mark the Chestnut Street skyline west of Eckhart Park.
East Village Association board minutes for March 9, 2015 submitted by Michael VanDam
New board, committee appointments
- President Dan Johnson
- Vice President Catherine Garypie
- Secretary Michael VanDam
- Treasurer Kok Keng (KK) Goh
- Planning, Preservation & Development Brian Foote
- Website & Newsletter Stephen Rynkiewicz
- Gladys Alcazar-Anselmo
- Neal McKnight
- Greg Nagel
- Tom Tomek
- Bob Zwolinski
East Village Association will co-sponsor a March 24 debate at Columbus Elementary School, 1003 N. Leavitt. The format will offer more leeway with questions and responses, because only the two runoff candidates will be participating. Board members discussed ways EVA could help increase voter turnout.Social Media
Board members explored creating an East Village Facebook group in addition to the EVA Facebook page. While it lacks the power of in-person interaction, a group might add to neighbor input outside monthly meetings. A subcommittee will explore social media opportunities.Planning, Preservation and Development
No additional information is available on the ground-floor tenant moving into the Amber Building, 1620 W. Chicago Ave.
St. Boniface Church neighbors have been informed the church at 1358 W. Chestnut St. may be converted into 112 apartments for low-wage workers. The rehab plan, presented in a meeting with Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th Ward), has twice the unit count of a previous plan for senior housing. Scott Rappe will obtain an update.Membership
McKnight will spearhead an initiative to get more local businesses to join EVA. Board members considered a “welcome packet” or small flyer explaining EVA and how to join.New Business
Patio license renewal season is occurring now: The board needs to work with Ald. Proco Joe Moreno (1st Ward) to ensure that Division Street businesses adhere to plans filed with the city.
Speaker suggestions for future EVA meetings are welcome.Attendees at West Town Bakery & Diner: Gladys Alcazar-Anselmo, Rich Anselmo, David Burns, Dan Johnson, Neal McKnight, Greg Nagel, Stephen Rynkiewicz, Tom Tomek, Michael VanDam, Bob Zwolinski.
James Bausch had just bought an engagement ring for his girlfriend Amanda Annis when he biked by a crash scene. Less than an hour later, he learned the crushing news: that his girlfriend had been hit and killed at that scene by a driver who ran a red light.
James told us that “nobody should have to go through what Mandy’s family and I went through in losing someone we loved to a preventable traffic crash.”
Tragedies like this are not inevitable, are not acceptable, and should be not be forgotten in the debate about traffic safety and red light cameras.
With this in mind, Active Trans was joined today by physicians, traffic safety experts and victims of traffic crashes in calling on Chicago’s elected leaders and candidates for elected office to support a comprehensive “Vision Zero” strategy to consistently reduce traffic injuries and eventually eliminate traffic fatalities.
In 2012, there were more than 77,000 reported traffic crashes in the city of Chicago that significantly injured nearly 21,000 people and killed 145 people -- which is about 55 people per day injured or killed in Chicago traffic crashes.
In the Chicago suburbs, the number of injuries and fatalities are roughly one-and-a-half times the Chicago totals. Because crashes and injuries are often unreported or misreported, the actual numbers are likely higher.
Vision Zero is an international traffic safety movement guided by the principle that no loss of life on our streets is acceptable. Traffic crashes are not mere “accidents,” but preventable incidents that can be reduced and eliminated with systemic changes.
Photo enforcement is one tool that’s been used internationally and across the U.S. to advance Vision Zero goals along with public awareness and education programs, policy changes, and improvements to traffic engineering and street design.
We also called for the creation of an independent task force to help develop and evaluate a comprehensive Vision Zero action plan.
In the past year, the cities of New York, San Francisco and Seattle have all committed to Vision Zero and published detailed action plans that aim to reduce and ultimately eliminate traffic deaths and serious injuries, and several other cities are already working on similar plans.
The Chicago Department of Transportation has adopted a goal of reaching zero traffic fatalities by 2022. In pursuit of that goal, CDOT has been implementing various strategies that would contribute to a comprehensive plan.
We cannot forget the tens of thousands of people like Amanda Annis who have been and will be injured and killed in traffic crashes unless we take traffic crashes seriously and implement a Vision Zero strategy.
Photo above courtesy of Steven Gross.
It’s election season and the proposed rapid transit line on Ashland has been in the news.
Unfortunately, though, there have been many misperceptions about the project going around and little focus on the positive impact it would have on our neighborhoods.
Our Executive Director Ron Burke and Jacky Grimshaw, vice president for policy at the Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT), sought to change that with a recent op-ed in the Chicago Sun-Times:
Although there are reasonable concerns being voiced, some residents simply believe that preserving all four lanes of car traffic and every left-hand turn on Ashland Avenue is more important than expanding the city’s rapid transit network for the millions of Chicagoans who use it every day. They are entitled to their opinions, but our elected officials shouldn’t buy the false populism they are selling. Downtown Chicago is important, but so is every other Chicago community. It’s time to support our communities and everyday Chicago transit riders by connecting Chicago’s neighborhoods with rapid transit on Ashland.
We’re partners with CNT on the Transit Future campaign, which aims to establish a revenue stream at the county level to fund transit improvements and expansion.
The Ashland rapid transit project is part of our campaign vision, and if the campaign is successful the project and others like it are much more likely to get funded.
2ND WARD RUNOFF CANDIDATES TO DEBATE MARCH 24
Candidates in the Chicago runoff election for 2nd Ward alderman will face off March 24 at Columbus Elementary School. 1003 N. Leavitt St.
Crain’s Chicago Business political editor Greg Hinz and Chicago Tribune reporter Hal Dardick will moderate the forum.
Candidates in the April 7 election are the top two vote-getters in the six-way Feb. 24 primary race
- Brian Hopkins - former aide to Cook County Commissioner John Daley.
- Alyx Pattison - lawyer, local school council representative , former aide to Rep. Jan Schakowsky.
The format will allow open-ended questions with follow-up, as well as direct questions between the candidates. Propose questions for the panel at email@example.com.
The event is sponsored by the East Village Association, the Noble Square Home Owners Association, the Ukrainian Village Neighborhood Association and the Wicker Park Committee.
Ward boundaries stretch from Lake Shore Drive to Oakley Boulevard and Huron Street to Wrightwood Avenue. Mayoral candidate Robert W. “Bob” Fioretti is the incumbent.
Bring your neighbors: The debate will start at 7 p.m. in the school auditorium. Parking is available in the school lot across from the entrance. Please enter the building on the west.
CAN TV will be covering the event live. It will be seen on cable channel 27 and streamed at cantv.org/live.
Check your registration status, find your voting place and learn about early voting at the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners website.
Closing statements from Bita Buenrostro, Brian Hopkins, Steve Niketopoulos, Alyx Pattison, Stacey Pfingston and Cornell Wilson, Feb. 5, 2015 at Wells Community Academy High School. The ward debates were sponsored by Chicago Grand Neighbors Association, East Village Association, Ukrainian Village Neighborhood Association and West Town Neighbors Association.