What makes a good neighborhood? Put a number on it

Division & Ashland development

EVA Planning, Preservation & Development minutes for April 11, 2013
Submitted by Kok Keng Goh, with Gladys Anselmo

Peter Locke recapped purpose of the meeting: University of Illinois-Chicago urban planning graduate students are looking ahead to what future development in East Village might look like. Joshua Hahn is working with the East Village Association on a master plan that might be incorporated in Chicago planning and zoning. Ada Morgan and Andres Acosta are involved in a Local First Chicago effort to identify metrics to track development impact. East Village could be a case study for a neighborhood scorecard based on the metrics.

Neal McKnight noted recent conversations on local business: Owners gather neighborhood data to determine feasibility of setting up an enterprise. East Village's reported household income doesn't seem accurate or reliable; better data would aid neighborhood planning and attract businesses aligned with current demographics.

Hahn commented that Chicago data are often aggregated and difficult to access at the local level. He wants to understand the desired direction for East Village development, planning issues at the core of the neighborhood, and EVA's philosophy of how we define a good neighborhood.

Discussion on what a good neighborhood involves:
  • Identifying unique points of the neighborhood and trying to preserve such attractions as walkability and historic character (Scott Rappe).
  • Stability and consistency in development (Gladys & Rich Anselmo).
  • Maintaining scale of residences such as keeping appropriate heights (Stephen Rynkiewicz).
  • Encouraging single-family homes. Most single-family frame buildings have been torn down, resulting in fewer homeowners and more transient renters, fewer families and diminishing neighborhood schools (Rynkiewicz). The trend is tough to stop, though, since multiunits generate more taxes for the city (McKnight).
  • Better understanding of affordability. Developers think that reducing square footage is the answer but makes for a more transient neighborhood, since long-term homeowners don't want small places (Rynkiewicz).
  • A sense of harmony between residential and commercial. Entrepreneurs overlook that relationship and must respect the community (Gladys Anselmo).
  • Businesses should support local residents first. East Village infrastructure does not support the high-impact, high-traffic businesses allowed here. The new Papa John's store on Damen creates a lot of loading traffic and is entirely geared to deliveries. Franchises don't carry the costs of their impact to a neighborhood (Rich Anselmo).
  • Branding and signage set the tone and help unify districts.

Concerns unique to East Village:
  • EVA shouldn't have to react to commercial development. Developers fail to be proactive. Standards should be set so volunteer organizations are not always fighting issues such as intrusive invasive land use (Gladys Anselmo).
  • Buffer zones between residential and commercial zones are not respected. Electronic billboards next to residential lanes endanger traffic, pedestrians and cyclists (Gladys Anselmo).
  • Augusta Boulevard should be residential but poor zoning has encouraged increasing commercial interest (Rynkiewicz).
  • Chicago Avenue should be attracting more restoration but has declined due to the economy. Big storefronts on the avenue have been vacant due to higher capital costs.
  • Even if small stores are successful and consumer traffic rises, there is a need to prevent big-box companies from encroaching on local businesses.
  • Condos tend to have short-term, 3- to 5-year residents, less interactive and less concerned with the neighborhood. Condo owners lease units to cover equity loss or get income in the downturn (McKnight).
  • "Back door" vs "front door" architecture encourages multiunit residents to drive in and out of the neighborhood in isolation. Neighborhood planning should push for more walkability and sociability.
  • Recruiting emphasis should not be on boutique businesses that are expensive for residents.
  • Pocket parks are needed more than big parks far away. Metrics can help justify green space. Cost to build a playlot is very expensive, about $500,000 due to insurance requirements.
  • Economics are problematic for a neighborhood to fund public spaces. Grants are hard to get, and rising long-term property values are slow and inefficient funding source. East Village has no tax-increment financing, and TIF money is not retained for local infrastructure development (McKnight).
  • The neighborhood is losing its neighborhood schools: Peabody is closing, LaSalle II is a magnet school, Talcott and Otis are farther away. Schools are important as a community anchor. Metrics should indicate how a neighborhood school can benefit the neighborhood, and would encourage steps to improve and attract good schools. Wells High is the largest structure in East Village but the most divorced from the community. Despite large capital improvement projects such as a new swimming pool, it still might be eliminated in a future round of consolidations. Wells and Clemente high schools need to be rebranded, with broad changes to the curriculum.
  • Existing tools like TIFs should create subsidies for local businesses or other incentives, or new tools that are easy to use should be employed. Participation in an available property tax credit program is so difficult as to serve no real benefit.
  • Some local business chambers do not share the development goals of the commmunity. West Town Chamber is focused on economics at community expense, while Wicker Park Bucktown Chamber collaborates on numerous projects proactively with local community groups.
  • Visual clutter attached to buildings negatively impacts the appearance and desirability of the community for residents and visitors. Tobacco and liquor discounts and rebates encourage large advertisements on buildings at Winchester & Chicago and Division & Wood.

Hahn was asked if any communities face similar issues and successfully address them. In 1956, Providence, R.I., developed a significant plan balancing development and preservation of community themes. Although many items were not implemented, the plan was valuable to create the perception of community and for municipalities and developers to consider. Providence has since achieved a successful balance.

Discussion with the grad students raised the question of how to validate EVA recommendations with appropriate metrics, for example to encourage local park space accessible within a 4-block radius of residents. Humboldt Park and Eckhart Park are too far away for many to consider. Driving to a park is not environmentally appropriate. Solution: Expand Commercial Park to the adjacent elevator-company property. EVA can encourage park development with land banking and land trusts as property becomes available. Chicago currently doesn't do this, although Cook County has started to adopt this strategy, primarily for affordable housing.

Adoptable metrics would provide tangible milestones and attainable political wins for government officials and the community. Examples of such successes in East Village:

  • The current Ashland-Division project, now highlighted as a long-fought project for community and viewed as a political win.
  • Division Street vaulted sidewalk repairs.
  • Goldblatt's preservation efforts.
  • Commercial district downzoning from high Cs and Bs zones to low-B zones.
  • Creation of the landmark districts.
All projects were driven by volunteer efforts and vision of community residents, with pressure placed on elected officials, resulting in benefits to the community. Such efforts can be problematic, though, if the community is not of the same mind. Issues often place neighbor against neighbor; local realtors and property owners felt landmark designation would negatively impact their ownership rights, causing legal issues.

Next Steps: Hahn will meet with local businesses and other institutions such as schools to round out and complete the community assessment. Rappe and McKnight will make introductions for Hahn to complete his research. Additional conversations will help understand the impact of certain business models, especially parasitic ones. The pawnbroker approved at the Polish Triangle caused a negative impact to the community.

7pm April 11 at West Town Bakery, 1916 W. Chicago Ave. Attending: Joshua Hahn, Ada Morgan, Andres Acosta; Neal McKnight, Peter Locke, KK Goh; Gladys Anselmo, Rich Anselmo, Scott Rappe, Stephen Rynkiewicz.
Tom Tomek business card
Anselmo @properties business card,
Ask Nagel business card.

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