It’s Not “Just a Parking Lot” Anymore

Most of us treasure these last days of summer, as the days get shorter and the breezes warmer and the backyard tomatoes are ripe for picking. There’s nothing like sitting on the porch or in the yard or even in one’s own kitchen, enjoying the evening breezes, Sinatra singing, and a fresh tomato tart.

That is, unless you live around the Republic Bank parking lot, which this week will be the site of both a Wednesday movie night and a Saturday evening India Day program that includes a concert. The Minutes of the SSA meeting reveal that initial plans for tonight called for a restaurant crawl, movie night, and ribbon cutting starring the Mayor. He may show up. He’s running for reelection and what better way to show the Indian community he loves them? It will boost Silverstein’s reelection campaign as well–another photo for the weekly family album, er, constituent newsletter.

June 18 minutes

The India Day event, including the parade and the party-in-a-parking lot , is expected to cost $100,000, most of it privately funded. The original proposal included a talent show, a fashion show, and a concert. I wonder how much of that is being spent for the privilege of eating cake alongside an alley. You’d think the organizers would want to do better by their guests.

May 30 minutes.                                                          April 16 Minutes

The SSA is also planning a back to school event for next August in the same parking lot. How this will drive business to Devon is a mystery. No stores on the street sell school supplies or children’s shoes or clothing. The Indian businesses long ago made it clear they don’t want local residents in their stores, and I doubt if many tourists shop here for pencils and paper.

There are many players in this tacky little drama–the Devon SSA #43, the West Ridge Chamber of Commerce, Republic Bank, the Rogers Park Business Alliance, the Federation of Indian Organizations, and the alderman. Not one member of any of the above groups has expressed the slightest concern for the effects of these events on nearby residents, who were not even given the courtesy  of a notification letter that these events were taking place. Would anyone associated with these groups want a movie blasting at 10:30 p.m. right outside their windows on a weeknight? Especially if they have to go to work the next day? No, they wouldn’t.

As you can see, there’s housing on both sides of the parking lot. There’s also housing to the west that is somewhat shielded by the Bank’s ATM. But the noise can be heard for blocks. This year, it’s scheduled to occur from 4 to 7 p.m., dinner hours for most of us. Cleaning up the mess will go on for a couple hours after that.

Looking North from Devon toward housing

Looking across the parking lot to the South, with apartments above commercial spaces.

When the ward’s annual movie night  is held  in Silverstein’s area, it’s presented in Chippewa Park. It’s well-advertised, and the venue respects nearby residents. Don’t my neighbors and I deserve the same consideration when events like this are arranged? Why is the proximity of our homes irrelevant to both Silverstein and the organizations that hide behind her? Such notice is required by law when organizers of parades and concerts apply for permits. It’s part of the application process. But the FIO ignores its obligations to advise residents of street closings and plans for crowd control and noise abatement. The law does not apply to the FIO because, well, because other people’s rights mean nothing to them. City law forbids concerts within 125 feet of homes. Why doesn’t this matter? What kind of people look at a parking lot and see it as the perfect spot for a fashion show and cake?

The alderman signs off on this behavior because she can. It’s yet another thing she does on the sneak,  yet another thing  that is kept from the residents  until the truck shows up  at 6 a.m.  to prepare the lot  for the festivities. The other players are acting out of arrogance; they simply don’t care if nearby residents are forced to endure noise levels that belong in a stadium.

Yet every one of these individuals and organizations  is fully prepared  to give an impassioned speech  about the dignity of every individual and the need for each of us to treat others in our diverse, multicultural community with respect.

Hypocrites.

The Chamber is sponsoring a restaurant crawl tonight that will end with this movie-in-a-parking lot. You’d think the Chamber of Commerce would have a little more pride in itself. Why not show the movie in our newest park, Bernie Stone Park at Devon and McCormick? Oops! That’s the wrong end of Devon. All the restaurants for this event are Indian restaurants, and God forbid any of the tax money collected by the SSA be spent encouraging visitors to travel west of California. And the alderman wouldn’t want to offend the homeowners living on the other side of Lincoln. They might hear the noise while enjoying their own porches and backyards. These are her voters, precincts that support her despite the terrible job she does. My area has never supported her, and this is her payback.

I’ve written here many times that the concert in the parking lot is it illegal, and the only way the FIO gets away with it is because city offices are closed on Saturdays and the police don’t dare interfere with what the alderman sanctions.

Last year the alderman allowed Hindu dancers from the Ganesh temple to bring loudspeakers to the parking lot on two separate occasions for dancing on Hindu holidays. She also arranged for two police officers to stand guard each time. When I spoke to the officers to complain about the noise, they told me they were unaware of any Chicago noise ordinances. I suspect they just wanted to keep their jobs. This alderman is so ruthless and so well-known for her pettiness and vengeance against people who cross her that even the cops won’t get involved.

Let me add that the SSA is planning other events but they will be held indoors –at Bombay Hall, or North Shore Banquets, or the Croatian Cultural Center. Any of these venues would be suitable for a movie.  There’s also a large vacant green space between Maplewood and Campbell, the site where a building burned down while Bernie Stone was alderman (yes, it’s been that long.) That space has no housing around it, and would be a nice location for an event designed to promote Indian businesses. Except that the Indian merchants don’t want to hear the noise they so arrogantly inflict on others. There’s always Warren Park. Oops!! The alderman will not permit wealthy residents in the mansions on Pratt to be disturbed. And a concert in the park would wreak havoc on the golfers at Robert Black. Nope.

I don’t understand why the Indian community, which established itself in West Ridge 40 years ago, still can’t do better than a parking lot for its big annual party. A gala event in a parking lot alongside an alley is just plain tacky.

I don’t understand why the Chamber wouldn’t provide a more hospitable environment for its moviegoers. You’d think somebody at the Chamber would recognize that this venue is inappropriate. You’d think somebody at the Chamber would have the class to consider the effect on the neighbors. That no one does is shameful. If the weather holds, the event will be rained out. I’m praying for a monsoon.

The SSA, the Chamber, and the alderman have boasted in an expensive new  marketing campaign about everything our community has to offer, and then they stage their big events in a parking lot?  It may be prime space, but it’s still a parking lot alongside an alley. Holding these events there makes our community a laughingstock.

It’s bad enough that the marketing campaign, “Devon: The International Marketplace,” is a lie. I’ve counted the stores on Devon. The three biggest businesses are 1) grocery stores; 2) sari shops; and 3) beauty shops, with general stores a close fourth. Devon’s current incarnation of a general store is a dumpy little dive that sells dusty suitcases and cell phones and even dustier pots and pans plus phone cards and flip-flops. Luring shoppers here on a lie means they will never come back. It might be a good idea to build an international marketplace before advertising it.

Republic Bank needs to be held accountable for permitting these noisy activities to occur on its premises. I’m sorry the parking lot proved to be such a failure, in large measure because the people it was designed for–Indian shoppers– keep deliberately breaking the gates so they won’t have to pay for parking. If the Bank wants to sell or rezone its property for these events, it should first seek input from nearby residents. We were here before the parking lot.

FIO needs to be held accountable for its repeated violations of the law, notably its failure  to inform the community  about street closings and crowd and noise control. Notice of street closings occurs when one of the parade organizers is seen running down Washtenaw with a sawhorse in his arms two hours after the parade starts.

The Chamber,  RPBA and SSA #43 need to be held accountable for their arrogant disregard of the residents. They are not free to decide to make the parking lot an entertainment venue. It is not their business to decide what decibel level from their events is appropriate for nearby homes. They must engage with residents and treat us with the respect we deserve.

Silverstein will be held accountable at election time.

None of the players respond to appeals for decency and consideration in their plans for this parking lot. I think the legal issues pertaining to its use for entertainment purposes or community events must br addressed in court. Let the alderman explain to a judge and to the electorate why there are two classes of citizens in this Ward. Let the alderman explain why she thinks she can sanction noisy activities in this location with no input from residents. Let the alderman, the Bank, the Chamber, the SSA, RPBA, and the FIO tell a judge why they believe the law does not apply to them. Let them all explain why they believe abusing certain residents in certain areas of the ward is acceptable.

There’s also a larger issue here. When people cannot affect their own lives, when the powers-that-be don’t listen, when the privileged show their contempt for the little guys, it breeds apathy. I’ve sat in many meeting rooms over the past few years while good people from this community try to understand why it is so hard to engage residents in civic activities. We have been conditioned–especially over the past eight years–to accept our lot as passive observers. Because we are not heard, we no longer speak. Human beings can only be knocked down so many times before they stop standing up for themselves. That people who should be leading this community–the alderman, business organizations, those with influence who operate behind the scenes–should also be the same people responsible for disenfranchising the ordinary citizen is disgraceful.

This is yet another reason to vote against Debra Silverstein. We simply can’t continue with an alderman who has no respect for her constituents–especially those who don’t live in single-family housing in better areas of the ward. My neighbors and I are not second-class citizens. The SSA, the Chamber, the RPBA, and the FIO should know that, but they take their cues from her.

Until we have an alderman who cares equally about the quality of life for all residents, not just the affluent and her own political supporters, these organizations won’t care either.  The business community must understand that it is not free to encroach on residential areas. These events must not be planned without input from residents and proof that all legal requirements have been met. 

Everybody–especially residents–deserves a seat at the table.

 

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