Make Way for Public Space

Make Way for Public Space

Mayor Rahm Emanuel will likely say he’s continuing to make good on commitments to public health and expanded outdoor space if a four-part plan to tackle both becomes a reality. Emanuel introduced an ordinance this month backing the Chicago Department of Transportation’s “Make Way for People” program, which is made up of four initiatives that the city and its partners claim will spark neighborhood economies and increase physical activity, citywide.

This is particularly important to communities on the South Side, which don’t have as much public space as the North Side, and could use an economic jolt, according to Bernita Johnson Gabriel, executive director of Quad Communities Development Corporation (QCDC). QCDC is a Bronzeville-based non-profit that is partnering with the city to pilot a portion of Make Way for People known as People Spots. People Spots essentially expand sidewalk seating onto portions of the street sometimes referred to as "parklets."

In Bronzeville, there are plans for a “People Spot” on 47th Street and Champlain Avenue, near two restaurants.  “The South Side does not have a lot of outside dining opportunities, and we’re excited to be able to offer that,” Gabriel said. QCDC will also oversee another People Spot in nearby North Kenwood, which is supposed to go on 47th Street and Greenview Avenue, by the Little Black Pearl art and design center.

Two other People Spots are planned for the North Side: one in Andersonville, at Clark Street and Farragut Avenue; the other in Lakeview, on Lincoln Avenue, between Southport and Lakewood avenues. The Andersonville Chamber of Commerce and the Andersonville Development Corporation will take the lead on the project, but will work with the city.

In similar fashion, the Lakeview Chamber of Commerce will take the reigns with the Lincoln Avenue People Spot.  “It’s an opportunity to infuse a more pedestrian-friendly environment. It increases positive loitering,” said Colleen O’Toole, managing director of the Andersonville Development Corporation, about the Andersonville project.

The People Spots will be paid for mostly with money from Special Service Areas (SSA) in each project location. SSAs are taxing districts where property owners pay additional property tax dollars to fund local public projects. The Lakeview Chamber of Commerce’s SSA project budget is $40,000, and QCDC’s is $44,000. The Andersonville project will cost $18,000, according to O’Toole. O’Toole said $2,000-$6,000 in SSA money will be used. The group raised $6,400 and the chamber is contributing $5,000.


Thus far, the city and its partners have only announced projects for the People Spots concept, but there are three other initiatives under the Make Way for People umbrella: “People Streets,” “People Plazas,” and “People Alleys.” People Streets are basically portions of streets that could be closed off permanently or temporarily to make public space. With People Plazas, the city wants private investors to clean up malls and plazas so farmer’s markets and other outdoor retail opportunities can go there. People Alleys would see the city temporarily close down alleys on select nights to host live performances.

Janet Attarian, CDOT executive director for streetscape and sustainable design programs, said the city and its partners have been talking about the program for a year.  CDOT documents indicate that the city looked to open space initiatives undertaken in New York City, Dallas, and San Francisco.

“If you’re going to compete with those other cities, you have to create environments where people want to live, work, and play,” Attarian said. “Quality of life really matters. It matters when you’re looking to attract and retain businesses, when it comes to public health, place making and economic development.”

Before the projects move forward, Emanuel’s ordinance needs to make it out of the city’s budget committee, and onto the council floor for a vote. The committee has not set a date yet to discuss the ordinance.