“Between States” – The Chicago Architecture Foundation Project

The Chicago Architecture Foundation (CAF)  invited West Ridge residents to be part of an exciting new experiment in urban design that will be showcased at CAF’s second Biennial Exhibit beginning in September and lasting through January 2018. The last such event, in 2015, drew 250,000 visitors to the Chicago Cultural Center, with another 250,000 attending CAF events in other venues throughout the City.

The theme of this year’s Biennial is “Between States,” that is, moving from one state of being to another. Every ward in the City of Chicago has ts own project, its own opportunity to shine. The project for the 50th Ward involved imagining new uses for a local strip mall.

Architect Jay Longo, a resident of our ward and a principal with the firm Solomon, Cordwell,  Buenz, selected the strip mall located on the northwest corner of Granville and Western for this project.  His vision was informed by two workshops with local residents and business owners, who imagined the mall transformed into housing, a commercial urban garden, and a plaza lush with green space and flowers, perhaps enriched by a mural and a neighborhood marker. The final rendering will reflect the shared dream resulting from this active, creative collaboration between a neighborhood architect and members of the West Ridge community.

POWR (People of West Ridge), was selected as the project’s community partner and, together with Jay’s research partner, Cheryl Dahle, CEO of FlipLabs, coordinated input from 50th Ward residents, input that we believe could be the start of a long-overdue conversation about economic development throughout the 50th Ward, currently home to too many vacant lots, vacant stores, and vacant buildings. While it’s important to begin the process of revitalizing all of our commercial districts, the project focused on a small part of Western Avenue, a street in search of an identity. Anchored at both its Granville and Howard ends by half-empty strip malls, a street littered with vacancies, empty buildings, and unused lots, Western presents an opportunity for the community to reflect on and discuss what kind of overall development best serves West Ridge now and into the future, and to plan ways to achieve its collective vision.

Note that no actual demolition or building will take place. This project is conceptual only. No businesses will be displaced, nor are there any plans for future displacement. The point of the project is not to solve urban problems, but to demonstrate how good design and good architecture contribute to community life. The project is designed to stir the imagination, to awaken an awareness of new possibilities, and to create new ways of observing the public and private spaces in which we live and work every day.

Jay will present renderings of his project at several community meetings to be scheduled in September.  Copies of his rendering will also be on display at several locations throughout the ward, and a copy will be presented to the alderman for her office. The meetings will be open to discussions about the project and the ongoing research into economic development opportunities in the 50th Ward. Resident participation in these discussions is a critical. Good planning starts with solid research, and that research includes open community conversations about the kinds of sustainable development residents want as well as a hard, realistic evaluation of existing possibilities and constraints.

The community meetings will be announced as soon as dates are finalized. In addition, there will be walking tours of the neighborhood and other activities to attract visitors. Who wouldn’t want to come to West Ridge for a tour of our lovely historic district, or  a stroll through one of our beautiful parks, and end the day with a meal at one of our many restaurants? It’s an opportunity for us to show off our architectural heritage as well, our beautiful churches and synagogues, and our beautifully landscaped residential areas. If you have a special place you’d like visitors to see, feel free to email us at HopeComm@gmx.com.

To ensure that the community outreach for the CAF project included a wide variety of people representing the diversity of our neighborhood, POWR enlisted the help of individuals and organizations who became the founding members of the HOPE Committee, a group committed to the long-term goal of working with the community to create sustainable economic development throughout the ward.  Please see the HOPE Committee page on POWR’s Web site for the names of the groups and individuals who together made this project possible. The Committee also has its own page on POWR’s Web site while HOPE’s own site is under construction.

West Ridge residents can look forward to an exciting opportunity to work together with neighbors, students, organizations, and business interests to help create the 50th Ward of the future. Our section of Western Avenue, the longest continuous street in Chicago, stretches more than 15 blocks. Similar opportunities exist on Touhy and on Devon, on Lincoln and on Howard. This project is just the starting point.

I can’t wait to see where it takes us.

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India Independence Day Celebration to Ignore Laws, Disrespect Neighbors Again

Completed audience and soundstage set-up for 2015 India Day celebration in Republic Bank parking lot. Note that soundstage is directly in front of residential housing, separated only by an alley.

Photo of the 2015 concert. Note how the stage is set directly in front of housing. There’s no good place to put the stage, since there’s housing on both sides of the lot, and the extreme noise cannot be contained but can be heard for blocks and blocks. You know the alderman would never permit this where she lives.

One again the Federation of Indian Associations has arrogantly decided to break Chicago laws so that it can force its celebration of Indian Independence Day on West Ridge residents. Once again it has decided to stage a concert in the Republic Bank parking lot, even though the lot is not zoned for public performances, has no PPA (public place of amusement) license and cannot obtain one, and is located an alley’s width from residential housing, far less than the 125 feet required by law. The committee planning the event has also failed to give neighbors the legally mandated 30-day notice of the planned event, a failure that prevents neighbors from voicing any objections. The event is, however, well-publicized in Indian news-papers, with full-page color ads and photos of invited Illinois politicians–the governor, the mayor, the alderman and Ira–as if inviting them makes such arrogance acceptable. None of them will show up but all will issue mawkish pronouncements about the importance of the Indian community to American democracy.

This is especially galling because Devon’s Indian business community, with only one exception, couldn’t be bothered to acknowledge–let alone celebrate–American Independence Day just six weeks ago. Not a single American flag, not one banner, not one sign in any window acknowledged the birthday of the country that has given Indian-Americans such opportunities. It’s absolutely disgraceful that taxes paid by the very residents the FIA abuses are partly funding this celebration of the independence of a foreign country when not one cent was spent to celebrate July 4.

You’d think a business community first welcomed to the 50th Ward in 1973 would be established enough to celebrate in one of our lovely parks instead of a parking lot.

You’d think the heirs to one of the world’s oldest civilizations would know how to behave, to show others the respect they demand for themselves.

You/d think that a community that makes up only about 8-10% of West Ridge would be more sensitive to its non-Indian neighbors.

You’d be wrong.

The Pakistanis gather in Warren Park for the party after their parade. One look around Devon will tell you how much respect the Indian shoppers have for our community, as the streets and planters fill with garbage, residents exit buses in the middle of the street because Indian shoppers arrogantly park in bus lanes and crosswalks, and every new seating area is stained with spittle.The organizers of this selfish event seem to think that, having taken our major shopping street away from the community without a fight, they are entitled to control everything else they want, especially if it will drive non-Indian residents out of the neighborhood.

The noise level of the concert will be 120-150 decibels, comparable to jets taking off on a runway, This is scheduled to go on continuously from 2-7 pm. If the FIA organizers played by the rules they would have completed an application from the City’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events and provided a written response to this question:  “Will electronic sound amplification equipment or a public address system be used at the event? If yes, Indicate, on the Site Plan, the location of the stages and sound systems, the location and direction of all speakers, and the proximity to residential addresses.” The application also asks for the hours during which the amplified noise will occur, and what plans the organizers have for controlling the noise. What application? What site plan? What residential addresses? It’s our independence day! We’re entitled!

What kind of people would be so callous and insensitive toward others that they would deliberately inflict such noise? What kind of public official would permit it? And what is the bank’s responsibility to residents? Any decent person has to be appalled by the blatant disrespect for both the law and the residents that FIA organizers demonstrate every year.And let’s not forget the alderman’s callous indifference to what they’re doing. I once called the police to stop the noise, and one of the organizers told them that the alderman knew all about the event and to call her office. The cops left without doing anything.

My mother used to say that there’s nothing you can do when you’re dealing with people without a conscience. She was right. Clearly, FIA has none. Suggestions that FIA treat others the way it demands Indians be treated will have no effect. Pure political clout is being displayed here, and it’s meant to be seen.

And the alderman? Her gutless non-response to the excesses taking place on Devon every day will be another in an increasingly long list of failures that will become  campaign issues in 2018.

Insults like this event matter more in the long run than all the libraries in the world.