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Near North has a plan of its own, thank you

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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.”

Development blitz

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.  

Challenges ahead

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.

More information: Sharon Wheeler, NNUP program manager, 312-573-8890; swheeler@NNUP.org and www.coNNectnearnorth.org

Written by LISC Chicago

March 26th, 2015 at 6:00 pm

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Chicago 2nd Ward runoff election forum video

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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.

Written by Webmaster

March 26th, 2015 at 3:09 am

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Developer rehabs St. Boniface plan

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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

2nd Ward Aldermanic Debate

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.

Written by Webmaster

March 25th, 2015 at 3:53 pm

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What If Community Developers Held a Congress and Everyone Showed Up?

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The question we pose captures some of the feeling emanating from the People & Places conference, which took place in Washington, D.C. earlier this month. Of course, Local Initiatives Support Communities (LISC), NeighborWorks, and Enterprise Community Partners all hold conferences on community development, as does the Federal Reserve, whose community affairs biennial conference will take place in April. But this gathering was different, as Miriam Axel-Lute rightly observed, “the difference was in who planned it, who was there, and the subjects they were open to talking about.” A practitioner-driven agenda provides a unique lens for addressing challenges facing community economic development. The People and Places conference represented a joint effort by four organizations: NACEDA (the National Alliance of Community Economic Development Associations), NALCAB (the National Association for Latino Community Asset Builders), National CAPACD (the National Coalition for Asian Pacific American Community Development), and the National Urban League.

Written by Rooflines

March 25th, 2015 at 2:59 pm

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Vision Zero campaign aims to eliminate traffic fatalities

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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 YorkSan 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 are committed to Vision Zero and hope you will join us by signing our petition to elected officials.

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. 

Written by Rburke

March 24th, 2015 at 7:46 pm

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Harnessing Immigrant Entrepreneurship for Economic Growth

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Last week’s release of Bread for the World’s new paper on immigrant small businesses was marked by racial tension from unexpected quarters, as audience members and presenters at a joint panel discussion took on the question of who it was politically palatable for the government to support. The event, titled "Harnessing Immigrant Small Entrepeneurship for Poverty Reduction and Economic Growth" and co-sponsored by the New America and Bread for the World Institutes, focused on the potential of immigrant-owned small businesses to grow the economy and reduce poverty, and the challenges that may prevent them from doing so. According to Bread for the World Senior Immigration policy analyst Andrew Wainer, immigrants represent 13 percent of the population, but are 18 percent of entrepreneurs. Lack of documentation to work legally is likely a major statistical driver, though small business may also be an opportunity for individuals to use skills from back home or fulfill a need within an immigrant community. President Obama’s executive action that granted deferred deportation and work permits to millions of unauthorized immigrants provided Bread for the World the opportunity to suggest policies to better serve them. Their suggestions included dedicated funding from the Small Business Administration along the lines of that provided for women-owned, minority-owned, and rural businesses; connecting immigrant entrepreneurs to resources through the Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA) initiative; and broad legalization. Amelia Lobo, who runs a CDFI for small businesses, also mentioned the important resources provided by USDA, the CDBG program, and the CDFI Fund. We heard from Betty Garcia, an entrepreneur who helped grow her family’s tortilla business ...

Written by Rooflines

March 24th, 2015 at 3:00 pm

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Sun-Times op-ed: Why Chicago needs rapid transit on Ashland

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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.

Read and share Ron and Jacky’s op-ed with your network.

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.

Show your support for rapid transit on Ashland and other expansion projects by contacting your county commissioner about Transit Future today.

Written by kwhitehead

March 23rd, 2015 at 6:51 pm

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Local Leaders Just Gained a New Tool to Address Inequality

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A new Brookings Institution analysis confirms what we are feeling: inequality continues to climb in cities, and large income gains at the top are not lifting up incomes near the bottom. In the face of such inequitable growth, cities need to use every tool at their disposal to connect their low-income residents to good jobs that offer opportunities to move up those rungs. One piece of good news is that the federal transportation department made a big move to expand that toolkit earlier this month by launching a new Local Hire pilot program. As Laura Barrett has written about on this blog, local/targeted hire is a no-brainer. In short, it’s a no-cost way for local leaders to connect unemployed or underemployed people in their communities to the growing pool of quality jobs being created by transportation investments. Los Angeles, Denver, Atlanta and many other regions are ponying up billions of dollars to build 21st century transit systems, and every $1 billion they spend will translate into some 50,000 jobs. There will also be many replacement job openings in transportation in coming years, since a large share of transportation workers are nearing retirement age. Transportation jobs are generally good “middle-skill” jobs that pay well and provide benefits (largely because of high levels of unionization), and are available to people who have some level of postsecondary training but not necessarily a college degree. But despite the potential for transportation jobs to expand economic mobility, women and people of color—especially African Americans—have long been underrepresented in the sector’s middle-skill jobs, and locked out of jobs on the transit lines and roads being built right in their own communities.

Written by Rooflines

March 23rd, 2015 at 2:00 pm

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Chicago 2nd Ward runoff debate

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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 debate@eastvillagechicago.org.

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.

Written by Webmaster

March 23rd, 2015 at 3:10 am

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Chicago 2nd Ward election forum video

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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.

Written by Webmaster

March 23rd, 2015 at 3:07 am

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