Community Needs To Be Heard on New Library

What’s happening with the new library? What information we have was obtained thanks to DNA Info and CHA press releases. The alderman herself has not said a word since last November, either in person or via her newsletter. It begs the question of whether she is the point person for this project or as much in the dark as the rest of the 50th Ward.

Ald. Silverstein is not known for being proactive, and recent developments suggest that community input may now come too late to have any impact on the building’s design. This is especially problematic because it’s beginning to appear that the new library is no longer the main purpose of the new building.

So far, there’s been no meaningful community input on the building and its uses. The alderman has not held a meeting on this project for more than three months, nor has she updated the community via her newsletter or bulletins from her office. In my opinion, we should have heard about the architects’ selection from Silverstein, not DNA Info.

Adding housing and possibly commercial space to the library building is beginning to look like an idea whose time has come and gone.

This building will stand for 30 years no matter how the ward around it changes. While we need affordable housing for older adults, is the space above the library really an  appropriate place for it? Combining senior housing with a library is not a new idea, having been tried in Europe since at least 2011 with mixed results. The question for West Ridge is how housing and possibly commercial space will impact the square footage available to the library. Residents have been clear about wanting public meeting rooms, dedicated spaces for toddlers and teenagers, more computers, and classrooms in the new building. Does it make more sense to include cultural space—dance and music studios, performance space, an art gallery—rather than senior hosing? Instead of commercial space, would a daycare center be a better fit?

This new library will be the neighborhood’s showpiece. Let’s consider a magnificent building that integrates cultural space with our library.

Given the ample parking at the building as well as parking available across the street at Warren Park, a strong case can be made for cultural space rather than senior housing in this magnificent new building. Imagine going to the library on a Sunday afternoon for a performance by a local dance company or string quartet. Imagine attending a gallery showing by neighborhood artists or a show by neighborhood first-graders.
We can make that happen. Public pressure works.

The LEARN Coalition has continued to press the alderman for a public meeting, and is about to launch a community survey asking residents for input on what they want the library to be. As soon as that survey is ready–any day now–Follies will publish it or a link to it so you can voice your opinions and ensure that they count. LEARN will present its survey results to the alderman and the CHA.

LEARN is also asking for representation on the alderman’s public advisory council for the new building. It is critical that representatives on this council not be appointed solely by the alderman. The advisory council must be open to groups and individuals who truly represent the community.

The focus should be on getting the library built right—enough space for the uses envisioned by the neighborhood, some room to grow—before we start thinking about additional uses for the building.

Maybe senior housing belongs elsewhere in the ward. Warehousing older adults in small apartments is not a good idea. Would they be permitted to have pets? Or does the presence of the library preclude that? While Warren Park’s across the street, crossing Western is dangerous, and bus travel would be required for shopping trips since there are no grocery stores nearby. Anybody who’s ever waited for a bus on Western knows how infrequently they run. How much is CHA willing to budget to provide services such as transportation and exercise facilities? Is this going to be a building for active adults? Or for the housebound? Will the residents come from within the ward or from CHA wait lists? Who chooses the residents?

Making these decisions may require more time than the City and CHA are comfortable with. The current building plan targets a completion date that coincides with the 2019 municipal elections. We should not be bound by the current construction deadline. Community input should have a reasonable cut-off point, but the community needs to take whatever time it requires to ensure that its input is maximized.

Any short-term political benefit that could be realized from building the new library must be outweighed by the long-term benefits this building should provide for West Ridge.

No discussion of the new library is complete without a discussion of the fate of the current library. The site is already publicly owned. Might this be a better place for senior housing, providing older adults with easy access to shopping and public transit? Or should this building be repurposed as cultural space? Can and should it be expanded by adding a second or third floor?

There has been some discussion of whether the current library, while not of major architectural significance, merits some consideration as an example of 1960s modern design, contributing to our neighborhood’s rich architectural heritage. This idea should be explored when we consider its future uses. Looking at it now, one can envision a senior center on the ground floor with apartments above. Such a use would rectify another missing element in the area: a place for older adults in the south end of the ward, where housing is rapidly becoming unaffordable and the need is so great.

These are among the many issues surrounding the proposed library that should have been addressed in public meetings over the past three months.

It is now incumbent on the alderman to open the process and include the community. What’s going on with the new library?

Community Watch Program Begins

Tuesday night’s meeting of the West Ridge Community Watch Program attracted a small but enthusiastic crowd of neighborhood residents, all of them volunteer members of our new anti-crime citizen patrol. Sgt. Shawn Sisk of the 24th District CAPS Office reviewed the purpose of the Neighborhood Watch and provided volunteers with additional instructions that will help them as they begin their daily or weekly crime-prevention walks throughout West Ridge.

Community Watch members will walk in teams of at least two people and will be on the alert for unlocked cars, homes with open doors or windows and no homeowner around, garages with open doors, or bikes left outside for the night unsecured. Should they see a crime in progress, Neighborhood Watch walkers will call 911; they will also note piles of garbage or other matters properly handled by the City and will contact 311.

Walkers will keep logs of where and what times they walk, and how long the walks last. This information will be useful in tracking the Watch’s impact on crime levels in various areas of the neighborhood.  Responding to a question about the best time to walk, Sgt. Sisk noted that crime happens all day, so anytime is the best time.

Watch volunteers will be provided with whatever they need to help the community stay safe. Sisk noted that West Ridge “is not a violent neighborhood” although “isolated incidents” occur from time to time. Walkers were advised to read and become familiar with the crime-prevention tip sheets available through CPD. These can be handed out to neighbors and others.

One neighbor asked about the danger of racial profiling, and Sisk explained the difference between profiling and giving a detailed description. Volunteers will be reporting behavior, not race, although race can be part of a description. For example, he said, reporting three black men walking down the street is profiling; reporting three black men walking down the street trying to open car doors is reporting behavior, with the men’s race just a part of their description. 

So far, all the Community Watch volunteers are white. Sisk and the audience expressed the hope that Black, Latino, Asian, and Middle Eastern neighbors will also join, and efforts will be made to reach out to nonwhite neighbors to make the Watch volunteers more diverse. It’s up to all residents to help keep the community safe.

At the end of the meeting volunteers ordered their yellow jackets, which the CAPS officers will deliver personally to each walker. Come summer, yellow tee shirts will probably substitute for the jackets.

To become a member of the West Ridge Community Watch Program, contact the 24th District CAPS office:

24th District CAPS: 312/744-6321 or caps24.org

 

Is This Community Input?

This morning the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) approved a $1.25M lease of public land to Target for a Target Express on Sheridan near Devon, contingent on “community input.” Baloney.

This is a done deal and the way it’s been handled is particularly instructive for West Ridge residents because of the proposed new library-senior housing complex to be built at Western & Pratt. Nobody–not the aldermen, the developers, the CHA, the hidden interests that stand to benefit–has been straight with the residents of either ward. Worse, the game of “community input” obscures the fact that powerful people are running roughshod over the powerless. There’s no real input, and the game is over for the community before it even begins.

The Target development is in the 49th Ward. Public land is being taken from a senior housing building, The Caroline Hedger Apartments, In order to build the Target; above it, the CHA will build 111 multigenerational apartments (60% of them subsidized or affordable, the others market rate; the developer suggesting $2,000 for a two-bedroom unit). The property, to be called “The Concord at Sheridan” [beware of buildings with pretentious names], will include underground parking and commercial space. The land to be taken from the Hedger seniors is used for their garden and community room; the garden will be replaced by a rooftop of potted plants to be shared with the new building’s tenants, and a new community room will be built for them in the new building; it will be accessible by elevator; the existing room is at ground level.

Ald. Joe Moore held a community meeting on January 30 at which all interests (CHA, Target,  and Three Corners Development) except those of the Hedger residents were presented to the public. Community opposition was strong. More than 150 Hedger residents have signed a petition opposing the loss of their garden and community room; Moore later claimed in a written statement to the community that  “only about 20 residents” oppose his plans. The lease is for 99 years.

Residents pointed to the numerous vacant storefronts throughout Rogers Park as evidence that additional commercial space is not needed, and many worried about the Target’s effect on the neighborhood’s small businesses.  Neighbors noted that the extremely high rents being charged in existing buildings have led to high vacancy rates in the area surrounding the proposed development. The statement that a two-bedroom unit in the new building would cost $2,000 per month was met with derision. A building less than a block away, The Morgan [what did I just say about pretentious names?}, is said to be one-third empty because of its cost.

The comments on commercial space were especially interesting because the 49th Ward is getting yet another new apartment building at Morse & Wayne. The developer for that building refused to add commercial space on the ground that the existing market did not support the idea, and Moore agreed. When he announced that he approved the developer’s decision, Moore cited all the vacant storefronts in the various commercial areas in Rogers Park, and said that no new storefronts were needed. Since that announcement, Three Corners has built a residential-commercial building a block from Hedger on Devon; its storefronts are vacant, as are most of the apartments.

[Last week it was announced that the two-story Woodruff Arcade Building on the southeast corner of Devon and Sheridan would be razed; it will be replaced by a six-story building which may be a mixed-use development with additional apartments.]

[Moore has been alderman of the 49th Ward for 24 years, and  is chairman of the City Council’s real estate committee. Three Corners Development has contributed to Moore’s political fund.]

CHA today required additional community input on the new building; decided it would not approve the project until it sees the building’s final design; and also insisted that the community have input into that design. But Moore was clear at the January 30 meeting that aldermen have the final say on development in their wards. In other words, when an alderman decides what the community wants, that’s what it gets. “Community” in Chicago sometimes means a community of one.

What does all this have to do with the 50th Ward library-senior housing building?

Well, for one thing, nobody pushing for a new library expected it to be coupled with senior housing. This was one of the Mayor’s bright ideas, and the alderman appeared to be as surprised as the community to learn about it. There’s almost no CHA or affordable housing in West Ridge, and very little support for getting any. There’s also the matter of which seniors would move into the building–seniors on the CHA waiting list or neighborhood residents? What are the politics involved in that decision?

[A proposed 100-unit building in Jefferson Park (45th Ward) recently met with fierce opposition by homeowners; the idea of CHA housing was so contentious before the meeting that it was restricted to people whose IDs proved they lived in the neighborhood. Even statements by Ald. Arena that the apartments would go to people already living in the neighborhood, primarily veterans, didn’t help. This building’s concept changed between its announcement and the community meeting, a worrisome sign.]

The LEARN Coalition, which created the petition for the new library and was solely responsible for obtaining more than 2,000 signatures from West Ridge residents in support of a new library, was left out of the process. Even though it has repeatedly told the alderman that it stands ready to work with her and the community on this library-senior housing project, she has not been forthcoming.  Indeed, the alderman has yet to publicly thank the group by name for its work on the issue.

Then there’s the “no information” community meeting held last November, at which we were repeatedly told that “everything’s on the table” and “nothing has been decided.” The drawings and pictures provided to the community at that meeting were only “renderings” of what the building, the apartments, and the library “might” look like. The design competition that was to end December 23 was extended, then three unnamed firms were selected to design the proposed building.  A community meeting in January was abruptly cancelled due to a “scheduling conflict” (Moore’s meeting was held the night before). It has not been rescheduled.

The alderman has consistently failed to update the community on the progress of the proposal via her weekly newsletter. In other words, the community will know nothing until presented with the final choices selected by the alderman and CHA. How can the community offer input if the design is already in place, the uses determined, and space for various activities already allocated?

Given the way the powers that be run things in the 50th Ward, the community had better start calling and writing Ald. Silverstein and telling her this way of doing the people’s business isn’t acceptable.  The building belongs to the community of West Ridge, and residents want to know what’s going on at every stage.

We have a right to be kept informed. She has a duty to see that we are.

 

West Rogers Park Community Watch

The kick-off meeting for the new West Rogers Park Community Watch program is scheduled for Tuesday, February 21, at 7:00 p.m. at Indian Boundary Park. Jacket information will also be available at this meeting. Please alert your neighbors to this opportunity to help our police keep our neighborhood safe.

desktopwrp-community-watch-flyer

 

CAPS neighborhood Watch Program – Part II

Please read the excellent comment to my Wednesday post on this topic. Reader Dan Miller provides an excellent report on an organized protest that disrupted the second half of Monday’s Neighborhood Watch meeting.

I don’t understand protests like this. CAPS called an open meeting, inviting all members of the community to attend and learn about the program. The alderman included the meeting notice in her newsletter. And the community responded: A diverse group of residents showed up. It’s true that the majority appeared to be white, but this was not by design or intent. Neither the neighbors nor CAPS can be held accountable for the failure of other ethnicities to appear in larger numbers.

It would be hard not have a white majority at a community meeting in the 50th Ward. According to the U.S. Census, 62% of Zip Code 60645 is white; Latinos are 17% of this Zip’s population, with black residents just under 15%, and Asians 5.5%; 14% of this area is foreign-born. The numbers for Zip Code 60659 are almost identical. There could be lots of reasons for nonattendance: work, family responsibilities, inability to understand English–as well as simply being unaware of the meeting because of any of the above.

Since the protest appeared to be planned, I suspect it would have gone ahead regardless of which groups were easily identifiable in the audience. There was a similar protest down Devon Avenue late on either Saturday or Sunday afternoon, with loud music and complaints about racism and xenophobia on the handout protestors were distributing. The protest lasted about 20 minutes. Sometimes these protests are more about getting noticed, i.e., about the protestors themselves, rather than anything else. I doubt if we’ve seen the last of them, though.

Many years ago I took part in a similar community watch program in Rogers Park, called Walk Under the Stars. If anyone at that time felt spied on, I never heard about it. If anyone felt that neighbors working with the police to stop criminal activity was a bad thing, they never said so at any community meeting I attended. If anyone now wants to protest such activities by putting put a sign in her window that reads “We DON’T call police,” she’s welcome to do so.

She can call 911 after a crime occurs, rather than blasting Neighborhood Watch for trying to prevent it.

Sheesh.

 

CAPS Neighborhood Watch Program

An overflow crowd attended Monday’s meeting on the new CAPS Neighborhood Watch Program. CAPS Sgt. Shawn Sisk explained the program to attentive, focused residents, stressing that Neighborhood Watch will work only if its volunteers become strong partners with local police officers and the 50th Ward aldermanic office. To do that, volunteers will need the commitment, positive energy, optimism, cooperative attitude, and time necessary to make the program successful.

Sgt. Shawn Sisk of the 24th District CAPS Office at the February 6, 2017, Neighborhood Watch Program organizational meeting.

Sgt. Shawn Sisk of the 24th District CAPS Office at the February 6, 2017, West Ridge Neighborhood Watch Program organizational meeting.

Volunteers will help to identify questionable activities and situations that put residents and property at risk by walking or riding bikes in teams throughout the neighborhood, noting but not acting on potential problems and issues that are properly dealt with by the police or the ward office. Witnessing a crime in progress, for example, warrants a call to 911, whereas noticing piles of garbage that could house rats would mean a 311 report or call to the ward office.

Sisk also made it clear that volunteers, who must be age 21 or older, would not have any police authority and must not represent themselves as cops. Volunteers themselves must obey the law and may not carry weapons, even if they have concealed carry permits. Volunteers may not use police scanners, take photos or videos, or chase after wrongdoers. They may walk or ride bikes, but vehicles are not permitted. They can bring their dogs along, although the kids are better left at home. Any member of the community is welcome to join the Neighborhood Watch, which does not practice or tolerate any form of discrimination.

Each volunteer will wear a bright yellow jacket emblazoned with the Neighborhood Watch emblem. Jackets will be paid for by the police and the ward office, not the volunteers. Sgt. Sisk is wearing the jacket in the photo above.

I had to leave early so I missed the discussions and audience Q&A led by the beat facilitators representing Beats 2411, 2412, and 2413. For more information or to become part of the Neighborhood Watch, please contact the CAPS office or your Beat Facilitator:

24th District Community Policing Office: 312/744-6321 or caps24.org

Beat 2411 (Kedzie to Ridge, Pratt to Howard)
Beat Faclitator Richard Concaildi – richconcaildi@aol.com

Beat 2412 (Kedzie to Ridge, Pratt to Devon)
Beat Faclitator Avy Meyers- avy@ureach.com

Beat 2413 (Kedzie to Ridge, Devon to Peterson)
Beat Facilitator: beat2413@caps24.org

 

 

 

 

Edgewater Village

Do you know about the World Health Organization’s attempt to ensure a safe, healthy, active aging process for adults aged 60 and over? Do you know that Chicago is a part of this movement?

In the summer of 2012 Mayor Emanuel registered Chicago in WHO’s Age-Friendly Cities organization, and the City conducted a survey of older adults to assess their needs and desires. The vision for Chicago includes a senior village in every ward. However, the organization in formation on the north side currently includes residents of four wards (40, 48, 49, and 50). Though now known as Edgewater Village, it has been suggested the name be changed to be more inclusive; discussions are ongoing.

The Village is being set up and run by older adults (senior citizens, if you will, I personally dislike the term) who meet monthly to plan an organization that meets their needs and includes their interests.

Edgewater Village is concentrating on encouraging north side residents to engage with one another socially, and its Programming Committee is actively seeking members and ideas to accomplish this goal. Other committees in formation include Communications, Employment, Finance, Housing, Social Services, and Volunteers.

Edgewater Village is not an advocacy organization and has no political aims or affiliations.

The next general meeting will be held on February 22 at 1:00 p.m. The group meets at the Broadway Armory, 5917 North Broadway (at Thorndale). Meetings last about two hours.

Worth reading:
A short summary of WHO’s guidebook for age-friendly communities
The guidebook itself
The Executive Summary of Chicago’s survey
Chicago’s final report and program recommendations