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Orange Dots and Balloons Jazz Up the Sunnyside Pedestrian Mall

4:38 PM CDT on August 28, 2015

Photo: John Greenfield

First built in 1975, the Sunnyside Pedestrian Mall is a leafy, car-free walkway that runs for two blocks between Beacon Street and Magnolia Avenue in Uptown’s Sheridan Park section. With its benches, plantings, and mosaic-covered pillars, it should be a popular place for all kinds of positive activity, along the lines of Lincoln Square’s Kempf Plaza.

However, the Uptown space functions largely as a place to pass through while traveling to other places, according to neighbor Ginny Sykes, a restaurant owner and artist who’s a member of the Sunnyside Mall Committee. “What I observe is a lot of people walking through here on their way to and from the Red Line,” said Sykes, who has lived near the mall for almost 28 years. “They walk their dogs, they bring their kids out to throw balls and maybe play a little bit. They sit on the benches and have conversations. Children walk use it to walk to school.”

Photo: John Greenfield

While she feels the space already works fairly well, Sykes would like to see more programming at the mall, such as the art fair and the movie night that recently took place. “The more positive energy that goes into the space and the more people that get involved, the better it will be," she said.

In order to come up with a long-term vision for the plaza, the Sunnyside Mall Committee is inviting community members to show up for a community input meeting in the plaza on Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon. It will be a chance to brainstorm ideas for a master plan that can be implemented over time.

Photo: John Greenfield

To help set the stage for tomorrow’s event, the committee worked with members of the local branches of the Congress for the New Urbanism and the American Institute of Architects last night to install a number of inexpensive, temporary interventions to “brighten the mall.” They strung big orange balloons across the walkway in zigzag patterns.

They stenciled orange dots – similar to the green and blue spots at Lakeview’s Lincoln Hub installation -- on the pavement with water-soluble paint that will wash off in a strong rainstorm. They hung laminated signs on trees with thought-provoking messages. And they strung up a pair of comfy-looking hammocks.

Photo: John Greenfield

This act of tactical urbanism is a pilot project, designed to enliven the space and inspire neighbors to think about more permanent ways to make their mall better, according to CNU board member Mike Kritzman, an urban designer and planner with the Lakota Group. It’s one of several events the organization has done to promote the activation of public spaces this year, including a speaker series they hosted last spring in partnership with the Center for Neighborhood Technology.

"We deliberately scheduled this right before tomorrow’s meeting, to get people thinking about the space and help them see how easy it is to make changes,” Kritzman said. He noted that the strings balloons could be replaced with permanent lighting, for example. “Hopefully, down the road, as the powers that be see that there are people in the neighborhood who are willing to do things, and ideas being tested, maybe money will become available.”

Photo: John Greenfield

Othello Harris, a creative writing student, chef, and local community activist, helped out with painting the orange dots. He said he tries to hang out in the plaza on his days off to talk with local youth and get a sense of how they’re doing.

“This is an up-and-coming space,” he said. “There are a few problems that need to be worked out as far as certain people. Other than that, I think it’s really coming along and people are working together to do better by the community. Events like this help neighbors get to know each other.”

Rachel Oyelola, who works at a law firm, and her girlfriend Francine Ornelas, a warehouse worker, were celebrating Oyelola’s birthday with a hotdog grill and a hookah pipe in the middle of the plaza, near their apartment. “I really like this mall in general,” said Oyelola.“It’s like a little piece of nature in the middle of the neighborhood.”

They said the plaza would definitely benefit from more programming, and that the recent art fair was a nice surprise. They gave a thumbs up to the new orange decorations. “This is really, really nice,” said Ornelas. “It definitely beautifies the space and makes it more welcoming. I like it.”

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