Public meeting August 17 re: Logan Square public plaza

There will be a public meeting regarding the concept of a public plaza to be located at 2546-2566 N. Milwaukee Avenue on Tuesday, August 17 at 6:00 p.m.  The meeting location is 2333 N. Milwaukee Avenue (Logan Square Kitchen).

Long-Standing Sign Announcing Future
Community Open Space on Milwaukee Ave.

Perhaps you’ve noticed the sign that’s been up forever quite a long time.  (Note that Arnold Randall is listed on the sign as the planning commissioner.  He left that post in January 2009 and has held two other jobs since then.  And the Department of Planning and Development is no longer.  It merged with other city departments to become the Department of Community Development and the Department of Zoning and Land Planning.)

Status update

One of the purposes of next week’s meeting is to give an update on what was originally conceived as a public market plaza that would host the Logan Square Farmers Market. The farmers market no longer finds the site suitable due to issues such as inadequate access and parking for vendors’ trucks, and it appears content with its current location.  So the Department of Zoning and Land Planning has been looking at other ideas for the site.

Orchard proposal

The only idea they are inclined to bring to the public’s attention at this point is the proposal by the Chicago Rarities Orchard Project (C.R.O.P.) to use a fair amount of the space for a fruit orchard as I described back in April (Fertile fields of Milwaukee Avenue?).

Proposed Community Orchard on Milwaukee Ave.

As I wrote then,

The open space between Milwaukee and Kedzie Avenues (as desolate as it may be) and the Paseo Prairie Garden at the Logan Square “el” stop, the square itself, and the planned plaza south of the square can potentially kill foot traffic on this retail corridor, the same as parking lots and blank walls can.  To replace the space of the plaza planned for the farmers market with an orchard…would be even more detrimental to maintaining the flow of foot traffic.

Just as the pace of businesses opening on Milwaukee Avenue has picked up despite the recession, just as more businesses will be opening soon such as Jam (photo left of possible location) and Wasabi (photo below) and Play and La Boulangerie, and just as those openings suggest the promise of other new businesses, I just can’t comprehend the argument in favor of dampening further business development and possibly hindering businesses’ success with a mostly passive green space.  I want those new businesses to thrive!  I want those new businesses to keep marching north on Milwaukee Avenue!

Other good discussions have cropped up (pun intended) at Payton Chung’s West North blog and at Switchboard, the National Resources Defense Council staff blog, where I concur with the suggestion that “proponents may be seizing the most opportunistic space rather than the best one for their project.”  This is a fine idea that needs a different home, and as far as C.R.O.P. is concerned, the whole of Chicago is its oyster.  Surely there are better sites.

Some posit that anything is better than the current state of the site.  I disagree.  An orchard is a long-term commitment.  The city needs to do soil remediation (is this the best use of tax dollars right now?).  The trees take seven years to mature (and what happens with the deadened space in the meantime?).  C.R.O.P. is an organization only five months old (what happens if it fails?).

I’m also concerned about the appearance and management of the orchard should it be accepted for Milwaukee Avenue or wherever it may land.  The people who manage the nearby Paseo Prairie Garden can attest to the difficulty of maintaining both the site and a cadre of volunteers to keep up with the necessary maintenance of the site.  And if this video is any indication of what the orchard could look like on Milwaukee Avenue under C.R.O.P.’s stewardship, I have to go beyond saying “no thank you” to “no way!”

Not a done deal

Despite some language from the alderman’s posting on the neighborhood listserv and language in an email I received from I AM Logan Square, the proposal is not a done deal.  Not surprisingly some of C.R.O.P.’s language, such as in the press release covered in the email above and in this information sheet, also reads as if this is a done deal.

However, Nelson Chueng of the Department of Zoning and Land Use Planning assures me that another purpose for the public meeting is to get feedback from the public about the orchard proposal to gauge if there is support. 

I don’t know how the city is promoting this meeting.  Besides the communications mentioned above, I haven’t seen anything.  If it’s like other public or community meetings in the neighborhood, the group with the most to gain, in this case C.R.O.P., will be aggressively recruiting its supporters to attend the meeting.  This common approach never lends itself to a fair discussion of the pros and cons of any proposal.

We can hope for something different.  Your voice can and should be heard, and I encourage you to attend the public meeting on Tuesday, August 17, 6:00 p.m. at 2333 N. Milwaukee Avenue.

In the meantime, what are some alternative ideas for the site that could activate the space and contribute to the progression of new businesses?

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13 Responses to Public meeting August 17 re: Logan Square public plaza

  1. payton says:

    I, as mentioned earlier, am directly impacted by their proposal, pass the site multiple times a day, and only found out about the meeting by searching through the Yahoo group archives. Very poor job of public outreach, really.

    What I was told is that CROP is the only group that’s come forward with a promise to clean/maintain the site over several decades. In the absence of an SSA or other funding mechanism, the Chamber is unable to step into that role should the site be developed into a public park or plaza. Yet CROP has yet to conclusively demonstrate that they can build such organizational capacity in spite of their short history, narrow funding base, and some volunteers (who, as the video shows, apply rather informal maintenance standards to their own property). At the very least, as a neighbor I need assurances that they have the capacity to keep vagrants and vermin away from the site. By that very low standard of care, the existing parking lot works, but Paseo Prairie (and, admittedly, the community garden I once tended) does not work.

    • Payton: I don’t think it’s an appropriate location for an orchard in any case.

      I also don’t think the city should plan for the future of the neighborhood based on a group approaching it and making promises to maintain it.

      The public market plaza came out of meetings with the public. So now that doesn’t work. A public meeting on “what else?” would be a logical next step rather than on “here’s the only proposal we’ve received that promises to fund it and it may or may not make sense for Milwaukee Ave.” ~ Lynn

  2. Christy says:

    Can I just point out that this “community meeting” is taking place in the whitest place possible, except for maybe New Wave?

    Christy: Ha! interesting point. In fairness, though, Logan Square Kitchen has a synergy with the orchard proposal and it has a good amount of space for a community meeting. ~ Lynn

  3. […] Thursday, 12 August 2010 by payton As Lynn mentions, a public meeting regarding the proposal to build an orchard on Logan Square will take place on […]

  4. lisa j. says:

    You would certainly know better than I, but isn’t Logan Square considered to be one of Chicago’s least green neighborhoods? As the past year shows, businesses are coming to Logan Square. Given the booming retail up Milwaukee Ave, I really like the idea of preserving space for different kind of neighborhood improvement- particularly one that relies on alternative economies.

    I know little about this particular project and was bummed realize just today that the meeting was taking place tonight. But in the past, I’ve been impressed with CROP. I’ve spoken with some of their organizers on the topic of site maintenance (I’ve had fruit trees in my yard before… I understand how much upkeep they require) and I was very impressed with their thoughts on the matter. I look forward to the dialogue and hope the residents of Logan Square benefit from whatever the outcome is.

    • lisa: Elisa is right (below). According to the city,

      As one of Chicago’s most densely developed areas, Logan Square has the least amount of open space per capita of any Chicago community area except South Lawndale. The majority of its open space is along wide, tree-lined boulevards and acreage for traditional open spaces, such as parks and ball fields, is well below minimum standards.

      The orchard doesn’t address the problem.

      I don’t know anyone who could disagree with your hope for benefit to Logan Square residents. In fact, I don’t know anyone who disagrees with the concept of the orchard if it can be well-maintained. The dispute is whether this is the right place and whether the orchard concept is truly open space. ~ Lynn

  5. Elisa says:

    The 35th ward has a very low ratio of park land to population–perhaps one of the top three worst in the city, if I remember correctly. Green space is one thing, and park space is another. The ward needs recreational green space, not an urban orchard.

  6. Carter says:

    “The dispute is whether this is the right place and whether the orchard concept is truly open space. ”

    Since they clearly recognize the orchard will have to be gated from the public barring the odd educational event, I don’t see how this even remotely qualifies as public open space.

    Logan Square got completely screwed by that whole Open Space Plan, with the majority (last I checked) of “new” spaces simply being already public, open spaces that were simply improved/built upon.

  7. rms says:

    I am unsure about the argument against the orchard based on the fact that it will reduce foot traffic. As a resident of Logan Square I would argue that passive green space will, in fact, encourage foot traffic. If you walk from Kedzie to California down Logan Boulevard (which is all residential) you will notice that the sidewalks are crowded with people jogging and walking. However, if you walk Milwaukee between Keszie and California there is substantially less foot traffic. I believe the reason that people choose to walk down Logan is precisely because the passive green space makes the walk more pleasant.

    I think the orchard is a nice idea for a challenging space. There will be issues to be worked out, certainly, but that will be true of any proposed use.

  8. Matt Beaton says:

    I am curious to know how the meeting went last night, as I was unable to attend. I think I am excited about this idea, although I understand the concerns about maintenance, fencing, etc. I would like to hear other ideas for the site from people who are against this particular idea. According to the Google Map put together by CROP’s Dave Snyder, the majority of the site will be a public plaza, while the orchard will merely occupy the narrow strip between Milwaukee and the CTA trench, which is really too narrow for many other types of uses (buildings, active recreational space, etc.). If CROP works together with the community to work some of these details out, I think it could be a fantastic addition to the neighborhood, even with a fence. It certainly would be much more enjoyable to walk past than the current eyesore, and I agree with the previous poster that it would likely increase pedestrian traffic.

  9. Thanks everyone for the great discussion. I’m just waiting to receive an image from the city to share my thoughts on the meeting and some of the points you all have raised. Continue to share in the meantime! ~ Lynn

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