Will Andersonville Get Chicago’s Next Great Pedestrian Plaza?

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Berwyn Street east of Clark, a potential People Street. Photo: ADC.

Last week when I talked to Brian Bonanno from the Andersonville Development Corporation about his interest in bringing bus rapid transit to the neighborhood, he mentioned that the ADC wants to create a pedestrian plaza along the Clark Street business strip. The Chicago Department of Transportation’s Make Way for People initiative is helping to create “People Spot” parklets (Andersonville’s was one of the first) and “People Streets” pedestrian zones, so this is a great time to pursue the idea. I called Brian today for more info.

John Greenfield: What’s going on with People Streets proposal in Andersonville?

Brian Bonanno: We’re in the exploratory phase of possibly closing down a street for the season, from March until next fall. We’ve been looking at the idea for a while. Andersonville has a sort of a lack of public parks and open space. People have seen what Lincoln Square has done with their little square there [wildly popular Kempf Plaza, which was created by closing a block of Giddings Street] and they thought it would be a good idea to try that out here. I know there have been a few plans proposed in the past at different streets between Clark and Ashland. Now with the Make Way for People program we thought this was a good time to jumpstart some of those ideas and see if we can do this for real.

We’re looking at a couple different streets from Berwyn to Olive on the north side of the neighborhood. We haven’t actually decided which side of the street we might do. At Berwyn we’ve talked about either east of Clark or west of Clark but essentially we would close just a small section from Clark Street to the alley, which is about 150 feet.

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Andersonville’s Clark Street business strip. Image: Chicago Bike Map.

We would probably be very low key with this type of installation, at least in the beginning, with tables, chairs, and a stage of some sort to host community events, possibly concerts. In talking with CDOT they’ve been really adamant that if you are going to do one of these spaces you have to have set programming throughout the summer like art gatherings or concerts or farmers markets. Coincidentally, the space that we’re looking into, either side of Berwyn, is also where we host our farmers market on Wednesdays from June until October so it would be a perfect space to complement the market and draw people to the core of the neighborhood.

JG: So you’re already shutting down part of Berwyn for the market?

BB: Yeah, that’s why it’s an ideal location. Since people are already accustomed to that street being closed once a week during the summer, it might not be such a stretch for people to accept it being closed for the whole season. And if that goes well then our plan would be to do it as a permanent installation and eventually improve some of the infrastructure and make it into an actual square or park.

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The Andersonville People Spot. Photo: John Greenfield.

CDOT is examining the different street options that we gave them, and they’re going to let us know which is the best option. Once they get back to us, my job in the next couple of weeks will be to do outreach to the businesses, and then we’ll probably hold a community meeting to get some input and see if this is something that residents would be interested in.

It should be a very cool program if we can get it done. I’ve been assured that it should be less of a process than the People Spot parklet. And supposedly it should be cheaper, but that remains to be seen.

JG: With the People Spot you displaced a few car parking spots, right?

BB: We did. With the People Spot, probably the biggest hurdle to overcome was figuring out where the parking would go, because any spots that are displaced have to go somewhere else in the neighborhood due to the contract with LAZ Parking. A People Street will probably be the same. Berwyn has a substantial amount of paid parking whereas some the other streets in the neighborhood like Olive actually don’t have paid parking at the moment, which could tip the scales. We’ll see how it goes.