Tag Archives: 50th Ward

“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!





Take the LEARN Survey on the New Northtown Library!

The LEARN Coalition has just released its community survey, a planning tool that asks West Ridge residents to give the designers, architects, and alderman feedback about what we’d like to see in our new library. It also provides space for respondents to state their own preferences for ideas that might not appear on the survey.  All responses will be submitted online.

Surveys are due on or before March 15.

The LEARN Coalition is the community’s voice in making our new library a reality. LEARN created the petition for the library and secured more than 2,000 signatures. The petition was presented to the alderman and was instrumental in persuading the Library Board that West Ridge residents needed, wanted, and would support a new facility. It’s critical that the community continue to show that support by responding to LEARN’s survey.

Survey results will be presented to the alderman and the community as well as the developers, the designers and architects, and the Library Board.

Participatory Budgeting in 2017

There will be plenty of opportunities to learn about participatory budgeting in 2017.  Supporters of the 2016 referendum petition are committed to making PB a reality in the 50th Ward, whether  by working directly with the alderman, or succeeding in getting a referendum on the 2018 ballot, or ensuring that PB becomes a campaign issue.

The alderman recently supported City legislation transferring $1.3M in property tax revenue to a special fund that will provide legal support for undocumented residents fighting federal government deportation orders. Each ward receives slightly more ($1.32M) in menu money every year.  It begs the question: How can the alderman agree to transfer $1.3M to help the undocumented and not agree to transfer $1M to the control of 50th Ward residents?

In 2017, POWR will sponsor programs explaining PB in depth. Residents will have an opportunity to meet with PB organizers and participants from other wards. We will also hold at least one screening of the documentary Count Me In, first aired on PBS last Fall, about the PB process and how it works in other Chicago wards, including our neighbor, the 49th.

2017 is the year to learn about PB and how it can help residents gain some control over a small portion of public monies. This is especially important in a time when residents see less and less in services while taxes and fees increase at all levels of government. It’s critical that we as citizens educate ourselves about the issues and become more involved in civic life.

Remember: The election cycle begins again in 2018–primaries in March, state elections, including governor, in November–with aldermanic and mayoral candidates campaigning throughout 2018 for the City’s elections in February 2019.

Results of Participatory Budgeting Vote in 36th Ward

Nearly 1,100 residents of the 36th Ward voted in this year’s participatory budgeting process and approved the following projects for funding:

Repaving roads —  $550,000
Steinmez and Bell Park Athletic Facilities – $175,000
Reinberg Playground and Hermosa Traffic Safety 2 – $145,000
Chicago Academy Playground, Blackhawk Basketball Court, and Hermosa Traffic Safety 1  – $140,000
School safety – $50,000

A variety of projects were included throughout the ward, and residents’ priorities were clearly safety and recreational activities for youngsters.  Residents also voted to repair neighborhood streets, choosing to spend 55% of the available menu money to do so.

Ald. Gilbert Villegas noted that voter turnout was 35% higher than last year.

Let’s work toward bringing PB to the 50th!


“Count Me In”

I attended yesterday’s advance screening of “Count Me In,” a one-hour documentary about participatory budgeting (PB) that focuses on the PB experience in four Chicago wards; the 5th, 22nd, 27th, and 49th. Three years in the making, we see groups of neighbors learn to work together to identify structural problems or omissions and vote to direct taxpayer monies toward partially or totally resolving them. The learning process–and the costs of funding improvements–become clear as he process unfolds.

The segment on the 29th Ward is especially interesting because Ald. Burnett, who initially refused to consider PB for his ward, finally used the process to involve his community in spending TIF funds–the only instance in which PB has been utilized in this way. Another part of the film details the experience at Sullivan High School, whose principal allowed the students to use the PB process to determine funding for school improvements.

The film showcases both the successes and failures of the process, which is informed and improved by the experiences of PB participants. Two examples stand out. In the first, a single, gerrymandered ward (the 22nd) with small communities of African-Americans and whites and a large Latino community experiences problems with its first PB voting. Not surprisingly, Latino projects were funded for the simple reason that there were more voters in that section of the ward choosing projects.  All three communities had to come together to determine ways to ensure that projects were funded more fairly in the future.

On the south side, we witness the disappointment of one resident whose proposal for a community garden was accepted by voters but who learned to his dismay that the funding agency refused to grant financing because there was an unsuccessful community garden three blocks from his proposed site. Securing PB funding meant going through yet another process of proving the need for his site, or, as he saw it, making him responsible for the failed garden. Citizens working together came up with a solution.

The film’s producer/director, Ines Sommer, who lives in Rogers Park, was on hand for a panel discussion afterwards, along with the 49th Ward’s PB liaison Cecelia Sanchez, Sarah Lisy, former head of the 49th Ward Leadership Team, Chad Addams, Sullivan’s principal, and Ald. Joe Moore.

The film will be broadcast on PBS this Thursday, November 3, at 8:00 p.m. on WTTW Channel 11.

Learn more about the film itself at its Web site.

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.

Free Film Screening About Participatory Budgeting in the 49th Ward

Alderman Joe Moore is hosting a free screening of a  PBS documentary that features the 49th Ward’s participatory budgeting process. The screening is  Sunday, October 30, from 2:00-3:30 p.m. at the New 400 Theater, 6746 North Sheridan Road. There will be a panel discussion about PB afterwards.

The film, “Count Me In,” was directed and produced by Ines Sommer; she will be one of the four panel participants, along with Cecelia Salinas, the 49th Ward’s PB liaison; Sarah Lisy, former Chair of the 49th Ward’s PB Leadership Team; and Chad Adams, principal of Sullivan High School, where the first student-led PB process took place.

To quote Ald. Moore, “Participatory budgeting is one answer to the question, how do you get citizens, who have become cynical about politics and frustrated with voting, involved in the decision-making process about what government does and how things get done?

The film traces the growth of Participatory Budgeting from its US. beginning in the 49th Ward and shows residents pitching ideas for a variety of projects, including street repairs, bike lanes and community gardens. Projects get researched, proposals crafted, and at the end, the entire community is invited to vote.

“Count Me In” explores the ups and downs of this new tool, offering an engaging, unvarnished look at what it will take to revitalize democracy from the ground up, not just in Chicago, but across the nation.”

Moore described PB as “a process that is changing how we talk about democracy.”

It’s a conversation that needs to continue in the 50th Ward.

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.

Is It Time to Revive the Taste of the 50th?

I got to thinking about a reader comment on my August 12 post* about FunFest volunteers.  Robin wrote to ask why the event organizers didn’t use Warren Park, and referenced the Taste of the 50th. Long-time residents and regulars at former area businesses will remember the Taste, an event organized by Ald. Bernie Stone. Modeled after Taste of Chicago, Taste of the 50th featured food from local restaurants and was held at Warren Park. It attracted both neighborhood residents and visitors from across the City and the suburbs.

Maybe neighborhood groups and local residents could invite the alderman to a meeting to discuss reviving the Taste of the 50th in time for Labor Day 2017.  I think the idea just might generate some excitement and enthusiasm. Successful community events have to be developed and organized with input from as many sources as possible, and would profit from new ideas generated by individuals, block clubs, social media groups, community organizations, LSCs, parish councils, religious or ethnic associations, book clubs, etc. It’s a real opportunity for community-building and getting to know one’s neighbors.

It’s been so long since the last Taste of the 50th that the entire event could be reinvented. Should it run for one day or a full weekend?  Could or should it be combined with a mini–carnival? Or a farmers’ market? Or would it be better as a food event only? Where should it be held? We have several large parks in the Ward–would multiple venues be a good idea? What about activities for kids? I’ve noticed that in many other neighborhoods events are family-oriented during the day and afternoon hours, with nighttime hours reserved more for adults. Would this be a good idea for the 50th?

Let’s work together to plan a Taste of the 50th for 2017!

* on 50th Ward Follies, my blog about the 50th Ward

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.