Category Archives: Debra Silverstein

“Between States” – The Chicago Architecture Foundation Project

Our commercial districts need a makeover, and the Chicago Architecture Foundation (CAF) has some ideas on how to do it! Even better—CAF wants West Ridge residents to be part of this exciting new project!

The results will be showcased at CAF’s second Biennial Exhibit beginning in September. 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 will have its own project, its own opportunity to shine. The project for the 50th Ward involves 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, has 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 active, creative collaboration between a neighborhood architect and members of the West Ridge community.

POWR 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 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 meant to stir the imagination, to awaken an awareness of new possibilities, and to create new ways of observing the spaces which we live and work in every day.

Renderings of Jay’s project will be presented 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 element of planning.

The community meetings will be announced as soon as dates are finalized.

POWR, a community research tool rather than a membership organization, works with  groups and individuals involved in neighborhood improvement.  To ensure that the community outreach for the CAF project included a wide variety of people throughout our neighborhood, POWR enlisted the help of organizations and individuals 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 for the names of the groups and individuals who together made this project possible.

Residents of West Ridge can look forward to an exciting opportunity to help create the 50th Ward of the future. Stay tuned!





Participatory Budgeting Coming to 41st Ward

Ald. Anthony Napolitano has announced that he is instituting Participatory Budgeting (PB) in the 41st ward, giving his constituents the opportunity to vote on how $1 million in public monies will be spent. The 41st thus joins other progressive wards in allowing residents to participate in ward budgeting decisions, a sorry contrast to the 50th, where Ald. Silverstein insists on keeping the public out of monetary matters.

As regular readers of this space know, the push to bring PB to the 50th continues. The coming year will see a series of events to introduce 50th Ward residents to PB, and we will be relaunching the petition to put an advisory referendum on the ballot for 2019. We also intend to make PB an issue in the coming aldermanic race. It’s time for Silverstein to  make PB a reality in the 50th Ward.

Congratulations to residents of the 41st! A progressive, involved, pro-active alderman can accomplish great things by working with the community.

Residents of the 50th can only watch as other wards pass us by on the way to the future.

WRPCO Forum Tonight: Citizen Involvement in Basic Democratic Processes

I hope you plan to attend tonight’s WRPCO-sponsored forum “Are we citizens getting too much democracy?” at a 7 p.m. in the Community Room at Devon Bank, lower level.

Featured presentations include the lawsuit against the Chicago Board of Elections, the Independent Map Amendment in Illinois, the Fair Elections Ordinance in Chicago, the proposed LaSalle Street Transaction Tax, the status of the movement for an elected school board in Chicago, and participatory budgeting in the 50th Ward.

Instead of bringing handouts to the meeting, I’m posting links to Web sites and articles about participatory budgeting so that you can browse at leisure, downloading only what you find useful to understanding and—as I hope—
supporting the effort to make PB part of  civic engagement in the 50th Ward.

As you probably know, PB is a worldwide movement that began in Brazil. It’s now in widespread use across the United States. The following sites are useful in understanding its history:

Paricipatory Budgeting
[This 2007 report from the World Bank , part of its Public Sector Governance and Accountability series, describes the PB experience in Asia and Europe as well as Latin America and the U.S., but its academic jargon can be tough to slog through; still, the pros and cons and difficulties are well-covered)

Open Budget, Open Process: A Short History of Participatory Budgeting in the US
[An excellent July 2013 report from the Sunlight Foundation describing the U.S. history of PB]

History of the Participatory Budgeting Project
[West site for the Participatory Budgeting Project, which is advising the PB50 Steering Committee]

For information on PB’s history in Chicago, check these sites.

PB Chicago
[PB Chicago is part of the UIC College of Urban Planning & Public Affairs’ Great Cities Institute; its Neighborhood Initiatives Director, Thea Crum, has met with and been very helpful to the PB50 Steering Committee]

PB in Chicago’s 49th Ward
[Ald. Joe Moore of the 49th Ward brought PB to Chicago; his ward’s PB organization has assisted PB50 in our work]

Is Participatory Budgeting Real Democracy?
[A fair and honest article about participatory budgeting from Next City, a nonprofit whose mission is “to inspire social, economic, and environmental change in cities….”

The Steering Committee recently learned that Ald. Stone did not use his menu money during his last couple of years in office. Therefore, the alderman may have had more money when she was elected in 2011, although the financial records of menu money spending from 2011-2015 don’t reflect that. When Rahm Emanuel became mayor in 2011, he ordered an audit of the menu money program, discovered that aldermen were carrying funds from year to year, and stopped the practice.

Where does PB50 go from here? We have several objectives.

First, we will be asking the alderman to implement PB in the 50th Ward in 2017. She has recently indicated a willingness to consider using menu money to fund the library feasibility study, and that ‘s a good sign that she realizes the need to spend the money on more than potholes. [As has been pointed out to the Steering Committee by PB Project officials, potholes are a City responsibility and menu money was never intended for that use.] The next aldermanic election is in early 2019, and PB will be an issue. The alderman can either claim credit for instituting it, or explain to voters why she has not.

Second, in 2017 PB50 will begin a series of meetings designed to educate more residents about the benefits and responsibilities of using PB. We are arranging to have PB materials translated into other languages (Spanish and Chinese materials already exist, but not Urdu or Arabic, for example). We and our coalition partners will be holding a series of educational workshops in various locations around the 50th Ward  where native speakers will address PB in various languages so that our diverse community can learn about the issue and become involved in moving PB50 forward.

Third, if by 2018 PB is not in place in the 50th Ward, we will once again launch a petition drive, this time utilizing the full 90 days provided by statute to get the signatures needed to secure a place on the ballot.  PB50 circulators were able to gather nearly 125 signatures per week in the four weeks of this year’s drive; at that rate, in 90 days we will exceed the number needed to withstand any challenges and will  place a referendum on the 2018 ballot. Although it will be advisory, it will provide a gauge to measure the community’s support for having a say in how menu money is spent.

My own Plan B has always been to introduce an ordinance to the full City Council making PB the law in Chicago. That remains a distinct possibility, particularly since more aldermen have indicated to the PB Project that they want to introduce PB to their constituents. Personally, I think it could be an advantage in the coming election if our own alderman were willing to do this.

More citizen involvement in government at every level is necessary if we are to find our way out of the morass of high taxes, lost services, and indifference by our well-paid political class to the plight of ordinary citizens. Illinois is losing residents because of its high taxes and inhospitable business climate. Business leaders say they hate the culture of corruption, but if they don’t pay they can’t play. Citizens are increasingly shut out of the process except on election day.

Two facts stand out for me:

The City of Chicago must pay $860M dollars in interest on its borrowings before it can spend one cent on City services. The second graph in this article is particularly interesting, demonstrating that, of the nine largest cities in the US, Chicago pays far higher interest rates than any other City. Remember who approves those rates when you go to the polls.

PB would affect only $1M of the alderman’s $1.32M menu money.  There’s still enough left for aldermanic priorities.

It’s time for concerned citizens to take at least a small part in deciding how tax dollars are spent. PB is the first step in empowering the average citizen.

Let’s take it.














PB Petition Not on November Ballot

The petition for an advisory referendum to bring participatory budgeting to the 50th Ward did not get the required number of signatures to appear on November’s ballot. The Chicago Board of Elections officially ruled the petition off the ballot yesterday.

We will therefore launch a new petition drive in Spring 2017 to ensure that we make the ballot for the 2019 municipal elections.

The alderman’s claims of neutrality on this issue proved false. A ward resident who was clearly acting as aldermanic surrogate challenged the petition; he was represented by the same lawyer who represented the  objectors to Silverstein’s opponents’ signatures in last year’s aldermanic elections. She doesn’t  fool anybody with these shenanigans, but at least it will cost her some money.

We obtained 466 signatures, about 52% of the total we needed (893). The Electoral Board itself would have disqualified the petition for that reason. But the alderman wanted to be sure the petition would die, so two objections were raised: (1) We did not obtain enough signatures; and (2) “in the alternative,” the petition’s question could not be understood because it was ungrammatical and too long. The “alternative” objection–in case the Board was inclined to break its own rules and allow us on the ballot–was just insurance and easily dismissed. But this is what some politicians pay lawyers to do to keep the citizenry from having an ongoing voice in government.

So much that is positive emerged from this petition drive that I hardly know where to begin the good news:

  • A committed core of volunteers coalesced around this issue and is ready to resume work on next year’s campaign
  • The CBOE, by accepting Silverstein’s lawyer’s argument, has made our task easier–it’s clear now that we need 8% of voters in the ward, not in each precinct
  • In just four short weeks, volunteer petition circulators did a tremendous job, pulling in almost 125 signatures per week–working part-time during a hot and humid Chicago summer for a cause in which they believe
  • We now know firsthand how the process works–as well as how it can be stopped
  • PB is an issue that won’t go away, and neither will the activist citizens who are working on this and many other issues throughout the 50th Ward
  • If the alderman continues to refuse to introduce PB to the ward, it will be a major campaign issue in the 2019 aldermanic race

The PB Steering Committee thanks everyone who supported the drive to bring participatory budgeting to our ward.  Special appreciation goes to our organizers and petition circulators. And to those who signed–fully understanding the issue and the question as stated on the petition–thank you!

The alderman apparently thinks her constituents are too stupid to understand what they’re doing in asking for a say in spending the menu money. Rumors were spread in the immigrant community, for example, that the petition was an attack on the alderman. If you’ve lived under a repressive government, you don’t want to do anything to call attention to yourself, so this kind of whispering campaign works–once. Among another group of residents, a refusal to sign was often accompanied by the statement that we shouldn’t take “her” money away, but pressure her to spend it differently. Her money?

Residents of the 50th Ward are mobilizing around a host of issues that they understand and care about. PB is just one of them.

Silverstein can get on board, or be left behind. But she can’t stop the train.

North Side Police Accountability Reform Meeting

Ald. Joe Moore (49th) has announced that the City Council’s North Side Police Accountability Subcommittee that he chairs is holding its only North Side meeting next Tuesday, August 9, at 6:30 p.m. at Senn High School, 5900 North Glenwood (at Thorndale).

To quote from Moore’s announcement:

“This is one of five public hearings to be held across the City of Chicago in August to gather public input regarding proposals to replace the Independent Police Review Authority with a new civilian investigative agency and create a Public Safety Auditor to audit the Police Department and investigate allegations of misconduct within the Department.  Both reforms were recommended by the Police Accountability Task Force. For a copy of  the task force report and a list of the Task Force’s recommendations, click here.”

“These community hearings follow a series of hearings held at City Hall and are intended to solicit input from community residents who are unable to attend daytime hearings at City Hall. I urge you to attend this hearing, as the input offered at this and the other four community hearings will inform the City Council’s decisions on the important goals of reforming the police accountability process and assuring the public that any instance of police misconduct will be thoroughly and independently investigated.”

“A separate engagement community engagement process, led by neighborhood-based community organizations, will soon be held on a proposal to establish a Community Safety Oversight Board. This is another reform recommended by the Police Accountability Task Force and would be designed to give community residents a role in overseeing law enforcement.”

The other hearings will be held at the following times and locations:

  • Thursday, August 11, 6:30 p.m., Little Village Lawndale High School, 3120 S. Kostner
  • Tuesday, August 16, 6:30 p.m., Westinghouse College Prep, 3223 W. Franklin
  • Monday, August 22, 6:30 p.m., North Grand High School, 4338 W. Wabansia

Moore notes that several North Side aldermen are expected to attend, including Ald. Harry Osterman (48th); the meeting is being held in Osterman’s ward. No word on whether Ald. Silverstein will be there. The event was not mentioned in her newsletter today, although she had room for three pictures of herself at Ward events. Her attendance is unlikely unless she cancels her property tax seminar scheduled for the same night for property owners North of Devon.

Alderman Will Not Attend ParticipatorParticipatory Budget Meetings

Scheduling conflicts will prevent Ald. Silverstein from attending either of the participatory budgeting meetings this week. There was no indication from her office that she either supports or opposes bringing this exercise in participatory democracy to residents of the 50th Ward.

Her office did not offer to send  a staffer to represent her and no statement from her will be read at either meeting. Her office did say that any questions could be emailed to her afterwards.

The process of gathering signatures for petitions to place the referendum in support of participatory budgeting on November’s ballot begins tomorrow.



Alderman Invited to PB Meetings June 28 & June 30

Petitions are ready to be signed to get a referendum on November’s ballot to bring PB to the 50th Ward. Residents can attend either meeting to learn more about PB, discuss some of the possibilities for using the menu money, sign a petition, and perhaps become a petition circulator for your precinct.

Ald. Silverstein has been invited to attend one or both meetings, to engage with us and lead the way on this important issue. No word yet from her office but we’ll be checking with her on Monday.

Bring your ideas and your neighbors and join us to  experience the thrill of democracy in action!

PB Meetings: Tuesday, June 28 and Thursday, June 30, 6-7:30 p.m., Northtown Library

Participatory Budgeting Meeting

POWR has begun a campaign to place an advisory referendum in support of participatory budgeting on the ballot for the November election.

This referendum will apply only to the 50th Ward, which has in the past five years seen all of its menu money ($6.5 million dollars) spent on potholes while other needed improvements are ignored. Potholes will always be with us, and it’s time to move on to other issues that impact residents’ quality of life.

The meeting to present the petition, learn about the participatory budgeting process, and recruit petition circulators is scheduled for Tuesday, June 7, from 6:15-7:30 p.m. at the Northtown Library. Tom Desmond of PB 49, a member of the 49th Ward’s PB Leadership Team, will be the featured speaker.

The petition for the advisory referendum must be submitted to the Chicago Board of Elections no later than August 8; opponents will have until August 15 to object to placing the referendum’s on the ballot.  After PB supporters have had an opportunity respond to any challenges, the Chicago Board of Elections will decide if the nonbinding referendum makes the ballot.

Details on circulating petitions will be available at the meeting and will be published on this site as of that date. In the meantime, if you are interested in circulating a petition in your precinct, please contact us at




What’s the Real Reason?

The alderman has once again explained her opposition to a medical marijuana dispensary being located next to Warren Park. Once again, it appears to be an opinion that she got from someone else. Once again, it doesn’t make sense.

First she was “unequivocally opposed.” No reasons given. That opposition apparently resulted in a lot of calls and emails from constituents who support both the science behind medical marijuana and the dispensary’s location on Western Avenue. Then the alderman said that, while she supports the use of medical marijuana, she thinks the location is wrong, citing the “hundreds of children” who use Warren Park on a daily basis.

In response, the dispensary’s owner, Bob Kingsley, released renderings of the proposed site. He also added that security would be provided by off-duty police officers, and noted that the additional lighting and security would be positive outcomes for the community. The alderman remained unconvinced, and took the position that state law banning marijuana dispensaries from locating near schools should also apply to the park, stating that the “intent” of the law was to “protect the kids,” although she has never said how or why she feels the dispensary’s presence would have a negative impact on children.

The renderings reveal a building set back from the sidewalk; customers would cross a beautifully-landscaped plaza to gain admittance to the building. Kingsley plans to spend $400,000 on the building and grounds.  His customers would already have undergone a rigorous screening process to gain acceptance to the state’s MMD program, including fingerprinting and background checks.

The program itself is a pilot plan, limited by law to four years. The law was approved in January 2014; because of delays in writing regulations for the program, nearly 18 months later there isn’t a single dispensary operating in Illinois. State Rep. Lou Lang wrote the bill and has expressed concern that the four-year time limit will expire before any dispensary opens. He is seeking support in Springfield to have the four-year time limit begin on the date the first dispensary opens. See here for an informative article from WGEM in Quincy, Illinois, about the MMD program in Illinois.

In her current newsletter, the alderman now claims that her opposition is based on the fact that medical marijuana is a cash-only business, and that she is “not comfortable” with having a business in the ward that requires such heavy security 24/7. She notes that neither banks nor credit card companies will recognize transactions that involve paying for drugs. This is nonsense.

Marijuana and other drugs are freely available in West Ridge. It’s a cash-only business. Security is provided by thugs with guns. Buying medical marijuana with a prescription is not the same as buying drugs in the alley. Once the banks and credit card companies realize the size of the market and profitability of MMDs, they will not only recognize such transactions but will no doubt begin to invest in them. If anything, the alderman’s argument makes a case for legalizing–and taxing–recreational pot.

I suspect that there’s more here than is readily apparent. The 50th Ward is dying commercially. The alderman who promised “a spirited economic development plan” in 2011 has yet to deliver one word of it. She has no interest whatever in helping to create business districts in West Ridge, and limits her outreach to discount stores and small restaurants. During the recent campaign the only economic plan she described was her intent to invest all her menu money in the Devon street scape.

Recent decisions by her are troubling, suggesting that she prefers one-employee businesses like storage facilities and small ethnic grocery stores to businesses that need multiple employees and would hire from within the community. She does not object when yet another grocery or cell phone store opens. She has no concerns about safety or the amount of cash on hand when 24/7 convenience stores open, nor about the increasing number of stores selling liquor.

Perhaps it’s her fear of losing control of even one business owner in the ward that drives her irrational approach to this issue. Kingsley has fought back against her, making himself and his plans available to the press and to the entire community. a transparency that is usually missing when businesses open in West Ridge. One example of the standard secrecy can be found in the demolition currently taking place on Western–the alderman claims to know nothing whatever about plans for the site, despite the fact that she controls every request for demolition, rebuilding, and rezoning throughout the ward. Nothing happens without her approval.

There are legitimate reasons to oppose an MMD, starting with opposition to legalizing pot in any form. But the alderman has not made a case that justifies her determined opposition to the opening of this business. Worse, she raises the specter of crime–the same issue that carried her to victory in February–to scare the gullible into supporting her position.

The alderman has invited residents to attend the hearing at the Zoning Board of Appeals at 9 a.m. on Thursday, May 28, at City Hall. The Zoning Board usually holds its hearings in the City Council chambers. It is imperative that as many pro-dispensary residents attend as possible. The alderman will have no trouble recruiting crowds motivated more by a fear of criminality than rational opposition to the dispensary to attend.

If pro-dispensary residents fail to turn out in sufficient numbers to persuade the Zoning Board to approve this business, then another economic opportunity will be lost in West Ridge. Some smart, progressive alderman will welcome Kingsley and his business to another ward while residents of the 50th Ward wonder, once again, why the alderman doesn’t want real economic development here.


Silverstein’s Pot Problem

You may know that a medical marijuana dispensary has been proposed for 6501 North Western Avenue, next door to Warren Park. The owner says he plans to spend about $400,000 on construction and landscaping for his property, to hire workers from the 50th Ward, particularly veterans and the disabled, and to hire off-duty police officers as security guards. Judging by social media, most residents support having this business in West Ridge. The alderman can’t make up her mind.

First she said she was “unequivocally” opposed. She didn’t give any reason for her opposition. One day later, she amended her position and claimed that, while she supports making medical marijuana available to suffering patients, she didn’t want it near the park because of the “hundreds of children” from 2 to 17 years of age who use park facilities. A couple of days after that, she said that she thought the “intent” of the law that bans such clinics from proximity to schools should also apply to parks.

The alderman also claimed that many residents have contacted her in support of her original position, as well as the one after that, and said that “…it has become my feeling that this is not the proper location….” There was no official word on how many residents contacted her in support of the business.

Even she doesn’t know what her motives are. She keeps tripping over her explanations, backtracking, and confusing herself as well as everybody else.

Did she think that more conservative elements of the neighborhood would rally around her original inflexible position? Does she really believe that the children of the 50th Ward would be corrupted by the sight of patients with valid prescriptions entering a high-security building to buy legal marijuana? Based on the renderings provided by the dispensary’s owner, it’s unlikely the kids would even notice let alone guess what kind of business it is.

Alderman, you heard it here first:

West Ridge is not a drug-free zone. Illicit drugs are sold in streets and alleys all over the ward.

Maybe you should focus on that.