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Sunday Play Spot Series Energizes an Underused Stretch of Lincoln Avenue

The scene on Lincoln Avenue last Sunday. Photo: Lakeview Chamber of Commerce

Over the past few years, the Lakeview Chamber of Commerce, which administers SSA #227, has helped create car-free public spaces as a strategy to boost retail sales and build community. For example, they sponsored the conversion of parking lane space to People Spot seating areas on the Lincoln Avenue and Southport business strips, which have become popular places for shoppers and residents to relax and mingle.

Now they’re expanding on this success with the Sunday Play Spot program, a series of pop-up plaza events every weekend in September from noon to 4 p.m. on the 3300 block of North Lincoln. The block, located between School Street and Roscoe Avenue, next to the Paulina Brown Line stop, is completely pedestrianized to make room for a temporary art installation, active games, performances, and other fun activities for people of all ages. Program director Lee Crandell says the series was inspired by the Active Transportation Alliance’s Open Streets ciclovia and PlayStreets youth recreation initiative.

The SSA is spending $10,000 on the Play Spot program, a relative bargain for four free events that could potentially serve thousands of residents, and draw attention to a somewhat overlooked retail district, according to executive director Heather Way Kitzes. The series is also supported by 47th Ward Alderman Ameya Pawar, Centrum Partners, and dozens of other local businesses and institutions.

The pop-up lawn. Photo: Lakeview Chamber of Commerce

While the west side of the block is fully populated with businesses, the east side currently has a number of vacancies, although some new tenants are coming in the next ten months, Way said. Centrum is also building a parking-lite residential building next to the ‘L’ station, which should increase the area’s vibrancy. “Right now, the block is underutilized, so it’s nice to get people out and activate the street by creating a nice pedestrian environment,” she said.

Hundreds of people showed up to play on the car-free street during last Sunday’s kickoff, Way said. The centerpiece of each event is a 50-foot inflatable art piece titled “Orange You Glad to See Me?” by Latent Design. It vaguely resembles a massive goldfish with a clear head. “You can walk inside and have this orange, monochromatic experience, she said.

The local YMCA led Zumba classes, the Little Gym hosted kids’ gymnastics activities, and there was a bags tournament. On the Route Bicycles and Heritage Littles, which specializes in balance bikes for young children, had cycles available for test rides. Pet activities included a Twister game for dogs, and a paw-printing activity that allowed pooches and their owners to create a dog-centric Chicago flag. For those who wanted to simply relax, there were tables and chairs, plus an Astroturf lawn, perfect for picnicking.

View from inside "Orange You Glad to See Me." Photo: Lakeview Chamber of Commerce

Most of these activities will be back each Sunday, and there will be special events each week. This Sunday, Stage 773 will show attendees how to create their own puppets, and Little Miss Ann will perform music for kids. On the 21st, the Honeycomb Project will host a birthday card and gift making session – these items will be given to local seniors on their birthdays. The last Sunday features performances by kids from the afterschool circus arts program CircEsteem and a parade with characters from the hit children’s movie “Frozen.”

Way says the chamber’s investment in car-free recreation is already paying off. “We’re providing an opportunity for people to see the neighborhood in a new way and check out some of the businesses along Lincoln,” she said.

On Sunday, a woman told Way that she was driving when she saw the street closure, so she decided to go home, grab her bicycle, and do her errands on two wheels instead of four. “I thought that was perfect,” Way said. “Put your car away and bike around instead. That’s exactly what we want.”

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