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CDOT Creates a New “Off-the-Shelf” Parklet Design, Installs a Prototype in Chatham

The new Chatham parklet. Photo: James Porter

The South Side retail strip that's arguably the city's most essential destination for African-American cuisine just got a little more vibrant yesterday with the installation of a new "People Spot" on-street seating area. The Chicago Department of Transportation placed the new amenity, also known as a "parklet," in front of Mabe's Deli, 308 East 75th in Chatham, where it's also a short walk from neighborhood landmarks like Five Loaves Eatery, Brown Sugar Bakery, Lem's Bar-B-Q, and Original Soul Vegetarian. The seating area, which replaces two car parking spots, provides a comfortable place where residents and visitors alike can comfortably relax for a spell.

Parklets are common in cities like San Francisco, which has several dozen of them, but they've had a rockier history in Chicago. Since 2012, a handful of them have been installed during the warmer months on business strips in Grand Boulevard, Kenwood, Logan Square, Lakeview and Andersonville. But there's been resistance from some residents and merchants to the loss of car parking, even though a 2015 Metropolitan Planning Council study found that the seating areas have been a boon for local businesses. In addition, the city of Chicago has generally required the local chambers of commerce to pay for purchasing, installing, maintaining, removing, and reinstalling the People Spots, which costs tens of thousands of dollars. As a result, many of our city's parklets have disappeared in recent years. For example, Andersonville used to have two of the seating areas, but neither was reinstalled this year.

However, the new Chatham People Spot was funded via a $30,000 competitive grant from AARP (formerly the American Association of Retired Persons), awarded through a national contest. The competition's goal to help make communities more livable for people of all ages through “quick action” projects that support long term neighborhood development. CDOT used the money to create a design for an "off-the shelf" People Spot prototype that can be used by community groups across Chicago to build their own parklets, which could lower costs. The project was also coordinated with the city's Retail Thrive Zones program which is focused on boosting neighborhood economic vitality.

Roderick Sawyer. Photo: James Porter
Roderick Sawyer. Photo: James Porter
Roderick Sawyer. Photo: James Porter

Before yesterday's ribbon cutting, 6th Ward Alderman Roderick Sawyer said he's optimistic the new parklet will be a success. "We're really proud to have this," he said, adding that People Spots installed a few years ago on 47th Street in Grand Boulevard and Kenwood were well-received by residents. "This really is indicative of transforming our community into a place where people could sit down and enjoy themselves and have a bite to eat on the 75th Street corridor." During the ceremony the alderman added, "If you bring these types of amenities to our community, [people] will embrace them and they will want more of this."

“We are very grateful to AARP for providing Chicago with this Livable Communities grant that has allowed us to create this new temporary People Spot in Chatham, said CDOT commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld in a statement. "This is a great example of the type of small projects that can boost neighborhood livability and development through a modest investment. These types of people-centered spaces provide opportunities for neighbors to interact and create more lively, hospitable public spaces.”

The 75th Street parklet will be maintained by the Chatham Business Association in partnership with the city. The prototype will be removed for the winter (so it will only be up for a few more weeks this year) and installed at another location on 75th next spring. According to CDOT, People Spots will be installed on a rolling basis in areas of high economic hardship or designated as Retail Thrive Zones on the South, Southwest and West sides.

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