Chicago wants to disentangle a messy intersection at the heart of Logan Square, adding green space and boosting bike safety. But the city needs to ensure the project lifts up everyone in the neighborhood, without worsening gentrification, activists said at a community workshop yesterday.
“Public investment can be good,” said Juan Sebastian Arias, who works with Chicago United for Equity (CUE), which co-hosted the event. “But we want to make sure that we intentionally … consider who that investment might benefit and who it might burden—whether it’s unintended or not.”
Will these neighborhood improvements further increase rents, pushing more long-time residents out of the neighborhood? Will new green spaces welcome everyone, or will minority groups face disproportionate enforcement of “loitering” laws? Wednesday’s meeting, at Second Shift (3432 W. Diversey, 2nd Floor), delved into these and other questions about Logan Square’s imminent upgrades.
The event sought community feedback on those questions, with the aim of issuing a report to the city.
Assessing Burdens and Benefits
The upgrade project, run by the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT), could transform the area around Logan Square’s Illinois Centennial Monument and along North Milwaukee Avenue. CDOT community meetings have already unveiled the proposed work to residents. The upgrades could include everything from installing bike lanes to cutting off Milwaukee Avenue’s path through the square, expanding park space.
To ensure that this work doesn’t displace long-time residents, LSNA asked CUE to conduct a Racial Equity Impact Assessment (REIA). That evaluation will look for “unintended consequences” of the city’s planned redesign, the meeting’s description said.
“We don’t have to look too far into other public investments in parks or transportation infrastructure [for such consequences], looking at the 606 [trail],” Arias said, a program officer with Enterprise Community Partners. You can “see some of the impacts that has had on housing prices and resulting displacement in the neighborhood.”
The rail-line-cum-walking-trail has been criticized for pushing out people it was meant to benefit.
Why Racial Equity?
By equity, CUE means that upcoming improvements should, in contrast to the 606, benefit everyone in the neighborhood, said Sendy L. Soto, a CUE member who also helped run the event.
Soto, director of community benefits and advocacy for Amita Health, illustrated equity using pictures of adults and kids trying to watch a baseball game over a fence.
“Equity means there’s a fair distribution of resources, so it better benefits everyone,” Soto said, showing boxes stacked to raise up the shorter viewers. “But this is how we feel sometimes,” she said, flipping to a picture with every box stacked under the beanpole adult. “The person that already has advantages gets more resources.”
CUE focused on racial equity in part because it’s the hardest form of equity to address, said Sara R. Shaw, a senior manager for the Illinois State Board of Education and CUE member, who also helped run the event.
“It is so often the form of equity that people skirt around,” said Shaw. Racial inequity is also a root cause of other forms of inequity, so starting there helps ensure you catch other problems, she said.
The city has stated that it wants the upgrades to work for all area residents, saying in a project flyer that it aims to “make the area safer and more pleasant for everyone.”
“We’re really grateful … that they’ve been in conversation with us,” she said. “This is not to say the intent to do good is not there. Our challenge is to specifically apply a racial equity lens.”
CDOT has several options on the board to redesign the area around Logan Square’s namesake monument and major artery. The project aims to improve safety and usability.
The North Milwaukee project has gone through study and development stages, and CDOT is now working with the public to choose a plan. “Final Design” work will take place from fall 2018 to fall 2019, with construction tentatively scheduled for spring 2020.
The upgrades would address safety in an area that needs it. The Kimball-Diversey-Milwaukee intersection “saw the most crashes of any within the frame of study between 2011 and 2015, according to CDOT,” Chicagoist reported.
Displacement in Logan Square
Around 33 people attended the REIA workshop. The event opened with stories of displacement in Logan Square. Ashley Galvan Ramos, 19, the youth representative for LSNA, said that her family was displaced when the landlord sold their building. They now live in small basement apartment, where Ramos, her parents and her 15-year-old sister share one mattress.
“When it hits you, it’s a shock,” she said. “It’s hard to go through. … But that’s why we are here today.”
The rapid change in Logan Square has been apparent for some time. Describing the area as “frenetic and gentrifying,” the Chicago Tribune called Logan Square “one of the most quickly evolving neighborhoods in the city.” And that gentrification has already pushed out a lot of people. From 2001 to 2016, Logan Square lost more Hispanic residents than any of Chicago’s 77 community areas, DNAInfo reported.
Christian Diaz, youth education organizer for LNSA, said that Ramos is one of 19,000 Latinx people forced to leave Logan Square because of rising costs. “The neighborhood’s changing really, really fast,” he said. “Every day, I see more construction.”
CUE representatives wanted workshop attendees to think about how infrastructure projects contribute to that displacement. So, the group shared an REIA worksheet, and in small groups, neighbors brainstormed about impacts and solutions.
The worksheet asked participants to think about the problem the CDOT project’s intended to solve, who it will benefit and burden, and what data we might need in order to know for sure. The small groups also proposed possible solutions.
Several attendees wanted to know who the expanded green space would benefit.
“One of the things that’s very powerful for me is seeing who is going to be using it and does that look like the community,” said Roberto Requejo, a program director for equity-focused group Elevated Chicago who attended the workshop.
Logan Square resident Jenny Nagaoka wondered who would decide what new park areas would look like. “Is it newcomers saying, ‘We want it to be sleek and make it fit in with our hipster image,’?” she said, with a laugh. “Or do we want to keep it more in line with the history of Logan Square.”
What Can We do?
Proposed solutions to gentrifying effects included pushing policies that bring affordable multi-bedroom houses. That could help offset the effects of increased property value around the square. “Development tends to be studios and one-bedrooms that are too small for families”—the same families being displaced, Diaz noted.
The new park spaces created by the upgrades could also be made more welcoming to long-time residents, with community spaces and events aimed at those people. Some attendees also wanted CDOT to do more than just host big public meetings. The department should visit schools, churches and other community spaces, Requejo said.
“I’m not a fan of the public meetings,” he said. “These meetings, you see the same characters, and you know what they are going to say.” Community outreach should instead actually reach the entire community, he said.
Public Space and Walkability
In January, CDOT held its latest community meeting to lay out the redesign plans. The upgrades, the department said, will address Milwaukee Avenue from Logan Square to Belmont. CDOT’s website for the project says it aims to “create public space and improve walkability” and “harmonize” different forms of transportation (bikes, buses, cars, pedestrians). The department also aims to work toward “Vision Zero,” a citywide push to eliminate traffic deaths and injuries.
The proposed Logan Square work is part of the “Complete Streets Initiative,” which has been called a major change to the Milwaukee corridor. That overall project will cost an estimated $10 million, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.
CDOT has proposed four redesign concepts for North Milwaukee:
Concept 1 would increase bike lane space and reduce crosswalk distances. Milwaukee Avenue would continue through the square. Concept 2 would realign Kedzie west of the CTA station and reroute Milwaukee around the square.
Concept 3 would maintain Kedzie and Milwaukee, but convert streets on the south and west of the square to two-way traffic. The north side of the square would become park area. Concept 4 would combine some of the above options. Kedzie would realign west of the CTA station, while Milwaukee would “bend” around the north and east sides.
Due to high interest in Wednesday’s meeting, LSNA and CUE will host another workshop. CDOT will have another public meeting sometime in the fall. You can also send comments to the department on the Chicago Complete Streets website.
CUE will submit a report of its REIA findings to CDOT by the time of the department’s next meeting, so they can use the information in final steps, Shaw said.
Featured Image: Michael Dhar