FORMING CONSENSUS FROM UPTOWN’S DIVERSITY

“Decades of conflict have produced a stalemate and perhaps an equilibrium…. Perhaps ironically, a high degree of conflict has produced Chicago’s most diverse community.” — D. Bradford Hunt and Jon B. DeVries, Planning Chicago, APA Planners Press, 2013

Safety, education, and economic development were among the issues discussed at the State of Uptown Luncheon on May 27th organized by Uptown United and featuring 46th Ward Ald. James Cappleman, 47th Ward Ald. Ameya Pawar, and 48th Ward Ald. Harry Osterman.State of Uptown It was my first local meeting as the CEO of the Institute of Cultural Affairs [ICA]. The details may have been Uptown specific but the issues were common to any town meeting anywhere in the world.

Another interesting aspect of my new job includes engagement in a Chicago community that ICA has called home since 1971. As Hunt and DeVries describe: “For the past five decades, Uptown has been a contested space, chiefly because it has served as an entry point for migrants, first low-income southern whites and later a racially diverse group of immigrants.” As a result they observe:

“This divide meant little community planning – either top-down or bottom-up – took place between 1980 and 2000…. Modern planning concepts for improving streetscapes, encouraging transit-oriented development, and historic preservation could not take hold.”

Uptown United is striving to change that with its core of Community Partners, Development Partners, and Business Partners along with managing Chicago’s Special Service Area #34 programs. A recent report that they commissioned by the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability, acknowledged the Uptown nonprofit sector as a key driver of economic development in the neighborhood, and “important to the social fabric and economic wellbeing of the community.”

There are several opportunities that I see for Uptown to unite as a multi-stakeholder community. The most immediate is the Chicago Transit Authority’s Lawrence to Bryn Mawr Modernization Project which would completely rebuild the Lawrence, Argyle, Berwyn and Bryn Mawr stations and all the tracks and support structures for more than a mile adjacent to the stations. However, the magnitude of transit re-routing / disruption and the length of station closures are unresolved. I just sent in ICA’s comment letter and a request for a meeting between CTA and our tenants to discuss the impact on their clients and employees.

An unresolved real estate development project raised at the State of Uptown Luncheon is the future re-use of the vacant Cueno Hospital. Cueno HospitalFriends of Cuneo was founded to provide a unified voice to numerous concerns about the proposed redevelopment of these properties located at the intersection of Montrose & Clarendon Avenues and its impact on this beautiful and historic community. As a volunteer coalition that supports sustainable development, historical preservation of cultural assets, protection of natural resources & local wildlife, and housing & employment for a broad range of households & incomes, they are committed to working with all who want to see this mid-century modern gem preserved, repurposed, and turned back to the community for another generation of productive & inspiring life.

In my August 2013 review of Planning Chicago for SHELTERFORCE, I noted:

Certainly, Chicago’s history does provide justification for community skeptics to question, “Planning for whom?” Debates between developers vs. neighborhoods continue but as Hunt and DeVries assert, it “understates the complexity of Chicago’s urban revival, missing the shared connections between the two.”

ICA’s docket includes exploring new sustainable strategies at our GreenRise Uptown Learning Laboratory and designing Chicago’s first Eco-District in Uptown linking smart grid, infrastructure, storm water management and traffic mitigation. It is an ambitious but appropriate agenda for our mission “to build a just and equitable society in harmony with planet earth.” Our Archive Team is garnering reports from ICA’s Uptown 5 Project for ideas from the ‘70s to recycle for the years ahead.

As Hunt and DeVries conclude their chapter:

“Uptown today remains the most diverse of Chicago’s neighborhoods, an entry point for immigrants from Africa and Asia, an intense blending of culture, making consensus on social order highly challenging…. Yet, the effort would be worth it to begin to arrive at a compromise, or at least a truce, in this unnecessarily divided community.”

This week’s U2Cando lyrics come from the ICA Songbook, set to the tune “Hey Look Me Over”:uptown_mural_plain

Up, Up with Uptown, lend me an ear.
Lots of things are happening; where do we go from here?
We’ll leave it up to you, folks, fill up your cup;
People are saying we’re down and out – we’ll show you we are up!

And we are Up, Up in Uptown, new buildings here galore,
Trees and flowers and birds and kids; we’ve sun and fun and shore;
We’ve gathered here from the world around with global gifts for all
So look up, world, hear our call.

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