Driver destroys Ainslie Art Plaza, 10 more POP! Plazas across the city announced

The Ainslie Art Plaza in Lincoln Square, before a reckless driver destroyed it. Photo: John Greenfield
The Ainslie Art Plaza in Lincoln Square, before a reckless driver destroyed it. Photo: John Greenfield

There’s been some bad news and some good news about pedestrian plazas in Chicago this week. Let’s take a look at these developments.

Reckless driver destroys Ainslie Art Plaza

The Ainslie Arts Plaza is a lovely little spot at Ainslie, Western, and Lincoln avenues in Lincoln Square, featuring a street mural, picnic tables, and painted planters. It was created by my old Chicago bike messenger colleague, artist Andrea Jablonski. The project involved pedestrianizing a city-owned parking area next to a McDonald’s.

Sadly, on Monday night at about 11:35 p.m., a woman driving southeast on Lincoln north of the plaza jumped the curb, crashing into the facility’s street furniture and destroying it. Luckily no one was in the plaza at the time, and the motorist only suffered minor injuries. But it’s frustrating to see a wonderful community resources eliminated due to one person’s irresponsible choices.

Frustratingly, there were no legal consequences for the reckless motorist. “There were no citations issued because the driver… was no longer on scene after officers arrived at the hospital,” a police spokesperson said.

Why were the police unable to use contact info from the hospital to get in touch with the offender? According to Mike Keating, a personal injury lawyer specializing in bike and pedestrian cases (and a Streetsblog Chicago sponsor), that’s due to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, better known as HIPAA. This federal law prevents patient health information from being disclosed without permission from the patient. “But if the cops got a warrant from a judge or a subpoena they could get info from the hospital,” Keating added.

Here’s a walk-through of the aftermath by local alder Andre Vasquez (40th.)

“Pop! Plazas” will activate 10 sites across the city

On the bright side, today Mayor Lightfoot announced ten more pedestrian plaza treatments are coming to neighborhoods all over Chicago as part of the “POP! Plazas” program, funded with $4 million from the $1.2 billion Chicago Recovery Plan cash.  The city says these interventions will create “spaces for recreation, performances, pop-up shops, gardening, and other neighborhood activities.”

“These transformational projects will bring back what these sites have been missing for years: people and socioeconomic activity,” Lightfoot said in a statement. “With their colorful, artistic design and multipurpose spaces, Public Outdoor Plazas, POP, will give residents a reason to spend time outside in their own neighborhood, patronize local businesses and enjoy the unique offerings of our great city.”

Projects were selected through a Request for Proposals the city put out in March by the Department of Planning and Development. There were 18 total proposals. Each plaza will be built and managed by community organizations using up to $500,000 in city funds.

“These highly designed and accessible spaces will become focal points for arts and culture, passive recreation, and public amenities that underscore the city’s commitment to an equitable and sustainable economic recovery,” said DPD chief Maurice Cox in a statement.

A previous POP! RFP issued last winter produced two finalists that started construction this spring: POPGrove at 4453 W. Madison St. in West Garfield Park, and Mahalia Jackson Court at 1 E. 79th St. in Chatham.

According to the city, eight of the 10 new projects awarded are in INVEST South/West communities totaling more than $3.8M out of the $5.3M awarded.

The POP! Plazas program appears to be a fairly cost-effective way to foster positive activity and “eyes on the street” in underserved neighborhoods, while creating jobs and beautifying these areas.

Here are the awarded projects with descriptions from the city.

Aspire POPFIT

5500 W. Madison St., Austin  

Planned by the Westside Health Authority in collaboration with the Lamar Johnson Collaborative for a portion of the former Robert Emmet Elementary School campus, plaza plans include public art, a walking trail and play area that can be converted into an ice-skating rink in the winter.

Fresh Market Plaza

1201 W. 63rd St., Englewood

Planned by Inner-City Muslim Action Network with Wheeler Kearns Architects, plaza plans include a walking trail, outdoor art, and passive recreational amenities that collectively emphasize health and wellbeing.

IAYV Secret Garden

Washington Park

Planned by IAYV Inc. with Future Film for a location to be finalized this summer, the plaza is expected to include a walking path, playground, vendor spaces, gardens, and a variety of public art and passive recreational amenities.

Overton Center for Excellence

221 E. 49th St., Grand Boulevard 

Planned by Borderless Workshop Inc. in collaboration with the Site Design Group for a portion of the former Overton Elementary School campus, the project will create multiple areas for art, nature, performance, and sports-related activities.

POP! Heights

11249 S. Halsted St., Roseland 

Planned by the Far South CDC in collaboration with the Lamar Johnson Collaborative, the plaza will feature a public lawn, basketball court, public art, community garden, performance stage, and parking for food trucks, among other features.

The site of a future POP! Plaza at 11429 S. Halsted in Roseland. Image: Google Maps
The site of a future POP! Plaza at 11429 S. Halsted in Roseland. Image: Google Maps

WACA Bell Park

1921 S. Drake Ave., North Lawndale 

Planned by the New Covenant CDC in collaboration with the Site Design Group, the work will improve an existing public space with enhanced basketball facilities, a mural, new seating, art installations, playground equipment, and space for large public gatherings.

WHiP POP!

3342 W. Chicago Ave., Humboldt Park 

Planned by the West Humboldt Park Family & Community Development Council in collaboration with the Lamar Johnson Collaborative, the plaza will create an engaging, family-oriented playscape with space for performance art, and other cultural activities.

Winthrop Garden

4628 N. Winthrop Ave. Uptown 

Planned by Uptown United in collaboration with MKSK Design and Human Scale, the work will improve access to an existing community garden while creating amenities for outdoor workshops, performances, and other group activities.

POP! Blocks 

5850 W. Chicago Ave., Austin

Planned by the Austin African American Business Association in collaboration with Lamar Johnson Collaborative, the plaza will create a new community gathering space capable of hosting events like the Soul City Blues Festival, the Austin Power 5K, and the Soul City Say No to Drugs parade.

Englewood Breakroom

1539 W.63rd St., West Englewood 

Planned by Teamwork Englewood in collaboration with Beehyvve, the Breakroom will host small festivals, performances, retail popups, and other special events that foster community cohesion and a destination for residents.

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