Research shows that consumers are rapidly changing how and where they shop, with the Internet replacing shopping malls all over the country. Cities are responding by transforming the mix of retailing, housing, and recreational experiences available to residents by building TODs (transit-oriented developments) without parking rather than apartment buildings with parking lots, thus encouraging residents to bike or walk to shopping, food, and recreational activities available where they live. Green spaces now enhance commercial areas, and community-led development is replacing government-based planning.
The Chicago Architecture Foundation (CAF) is holding its second Biennial Exhibition from September 2017 through January 2018. As part of the Biennial, residents of each ward in the City were invited to take part in the “Between States” project. Each ward had its own project, which is purely conceptual, that is, no actual demolition or building will take place. Residents in the 50th Ward were asked to envision other uses for strip malls.
Architect and West Ridge resident Jay Longo designed the project for the 50th Ward. Jay asked POWR, as his community partner, to develop a committee of residents and community leaders to work with him. The result is the HOPE Committee–neighborhood residents, community organizations, and business interests working together to create a plan for sustainable economic development for our ward.
The Committee invited a cross-section of residents and business professionals to critically review Jay’s concept for replacing a strip mall with an entirely new concept–affordable housing and a community-led urban garden that would supply fresh produce to neighborhood groceries, restaurants, and food entrepreneurs. The design also includes a public plaza that could host colorful food stalls from local businesses and food entrepreneurs, art festivals, farmers’ markets, and other events. The Committee and its neighborhood partners participated in imaginative and creative workshops hosted by Cheryl Dahle, an entrepreneur and researcher who focuses on creative and innovative solutions to complex problems.
Once Jay evaluated the input he received at the workshops, he completed a rendering of his idea for submission to the CAF competition. The HOPE Committee is now arranging several public meetings to unveil the concept and invite community feedback. The meetings are designed to open dialogue intended to improve our neighborhood, which has too many vacant stores, vacant buildings, and vacant lots that could, with community input, creativity, and leadership, become economically viable businesses, support entrepreneurial ventures, and create increased housing and economic opportunities for West Ridge residents.
The HOPE Committee was named as a response to the alderman’s oft-expressed “hope” for economic development. However, it is our belief that such development occurs only through engaging the entire community in thoughtful dialogue, researching ideas, ongoing discussions, and strategic planning to achieve the desired results. The HOPE Committee will serve as a guide and a tool for such development.
HOPE is open to all, and it is expected that membership will grow and change as the community dialogue focuses on different areas and different problems n economic development. What is critical is that the HOPE Committee and the community together create a vital, sustainable vision for the future of West Ridge.