Public meeting March 8 re: another public plaza

There will be a public meeting regarding the concept of a public plaza to be located in the triangle north of the Milwaukee-Diversey-Kimball corner on Tuesday, March 8 at 6:30 p.m.  The meeting location is 3429 W. Diversey Avenue, 2nd floor (Voice of the City/above the Family Dollar).

The idea is to vacate the small portion of Woodard Street located between Kimball Avenue on the east and Milwaukee Avenue on the west in order to claim the roadway for people rather than cars, and to improve on the sorry plaza space that currently exists.

One condition

I support vacating Woodard Street to reclaim it for people with this condition:  if the traffic direction of the streets north of it are reconfigured. 

Right now, headed south on Kimball Avenue from Belmont Avenue to Diversey Avenue, cars and bikes (abiding the law) have only two options to travel west to Milwaukee Avenue:  at the first block just south of Belmont Avenue on Barry Avenue and on the last block just north of Diversey Avenue on Woodard Street.  Miss the turn at Barry Avenue and cars and bikes must travel a quarter-mile out of the way and possibly a quarter-mile back up Milwaukee Avenue.  With Woodard Street gone, cars and bikes would further have to make an awkward 45° turn on Milwaukee Avenue. 

Requiring unnecessary mileage multiplied by many cars can easily negate any “green” features the proposed plaza may tout.

Several questions

I am disappointed to learn that once again another project is farther along than it should be prior to the first community meeting about the plaza proposal.  Time and money has been spent to come up with concepts before even asking the community “What’s the use case?”

Visit an architect.  On the first visit, right after shaking your hand, she unrolls plans for a house.  “Here are some sketches….”

Wait.  That’s backward.

Sketches for what?  How do you know if I want a house or an office building?  How am I to judge these plans?  Is it a mind reading exercise?

The most effective way to sell the execution of an idea is to describe the use case first.  And before you can do that, you need to have…enough information to figure out what would delight them.

After months of planning for and designing the orchard/Logan Square public plaza space, the question of what is the desired use for the space has yet to be answered.  This mistake should not happen again.  Substitute “the community” for “I” below:

Don’t show me a project…without first telling me what it’s supposed to do when it works properly.  First, because I might not want that result.  And second, how else am I supposed to judge if it’s good or not without knowing what you’re trying to do….

Proposed Concept of Woodard Public Plaza

Without knowing the community’s desire for the space, I have my own desires drawn from the concept proposed (image above):  I would like to see paths through the space where the proposal forces people to the center, to a destination.  I would like to see the angles of the triangle used to better advantage where the circular nature of the proposal leaves much of the area to the south without a purpose or use.  I would like to see some modern take on the abandoned newstand that still stands, something that would be an attraction to people.

Once the community’s desired use for the space is determined, some other questions for Tuesday might be:

  • Does the design concept adequately support what the community desires for the space?
  • Does it have the flexibility to test uses or evolve over time?
  • Who will maintain the site?

This is another meeting that has not been well-publicized within the community.  I encourage you to spread the word and attend the public meeting tomorrow, Tuesday, March 8, 6:30 p.m. at 3429 W. Diversey Avenue.

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6 Responses to Public meeting March 8 re: another public plaza

  1. Carter says:

    Always love your thoughts, Lynn.

    I live just off of Kimball and Wellington a shade north of this, so a few of my own:

    This “slice” of Woodard as-is provides little benefit to the community outside of a few parking spaces (and it could be argued those constrict traffic flow as well).

    I’ve seen many cars headed south on Kimball get frustrated with the light cycles, then peel out down Woodard to get to Milwaukee, but not necessarily to turn right/NW. Some of them see that it’s quicker to get on Milwaukee heading SE than to wait through Kimball’s light cycle.

    Other cars are using Woodard to avoid the logjam caused by the stop sign outside of Unity Park at Schubert. These people are not going NW on Milwaukee, they are squiggling their way south using residential side streets. And this IMO is a completely inappropriate “traffic routing-by-default” and ties into your other suggestion.

    Should we really be encouraging anyone to drive south on Kimball from Belmont to Diversey to go west on Milwaukee? As you say, Barry is a west-bound street already available for this, and those families on the little streets just north of Woodard don’t want to be de facto rush hour escape lanes.

    If anything, I’d support seeing Kimball made *less* traffic-focused, and to have a stop sign put at Wellington. The fact that almost no drivers on Kimball respect the crosswalks is a major deterrent for people in my nook walking to Milwaukee Ave to shop.

    That bizarre triangular sidewalk island on the east side of Kimball & Wellington is also a candidate for removal IMO, as it does nothing but create problems as people get confused by the odd way it splits left turners and right turners. It is common to see two cars trying to turn left/south on Kimball at the same time.

    Motorists trying to avoid Belmont & Kimball often end up flying down Christiana (my street) or the alley east of Kimball, only to run into Wellington which then puts you back at Kimball – where you have no light, so it’s a major logjam.

    The real problem with this area is simply that Kimball is not a large street. Kimball is often treated as such due to the fact there is a Kimball bus which connects several train lines. But the street is largely residential with the brief exception of the industrial zone between 3200 and 3600 N.

    And in terms of infrastructure, Kimball is not on the grid system on the 8s, like Kedzie and Pulaski. It is not even on the 4s, like Central Park – which is a better route to Milwaukee Ave north of Diversey from Belmont.

    In a perfect world getting the community together to propose, flesh out and then produce a one-size-fits-all project would be ideal. But sometimes it takes presenting an idea visually to have a productive discussion, else otherwise the topic is too open-ended. People don’t all have a good sense of scale & scope, and I’ve been to numerous meetings which were complete and utter wastes of time due to people demanding things completely irrelevant to a proposal.

    For example, I foresee people’s primary complaint with project being not the plaza concept itself, but a bitch session about losing a small handful of parking spaces. The immediate community doesn’t use those spaces. I walk down the street to go to Crown, or the Gap Outlet, or anything on Milwaukee Ave.

    I’m glad there’s a forum tomorrow, I hope it’s productive as some attention and city $ towards what ought to be a vibrant intersection & area is long overdue.

    • Carter: Hope I’ve made my case for the street reconfiguration with today’s post. I do support the vacating of Woodard here, but it does currently provide an outlet that needs to be replicated. My only concern with replacing the parking spots (as we will be required to do under the parking lease) is where they will be substituted.

      I agree about the cumbersome process of getting the community together to propose a project, etc. But first we must know what the community wants from the space. That would have been the good first step. Then, design something to meet that expectation and present to the community for a productive session.

      I hope it’s productive too. See you there. ~ Lynn

  2. Steven Vance says:

    I like your quote of Seth Godin’s blog. What he writes is useful to professionals in so many fields, and not just the ones he’s in (which I believe starts with marketing).

    When are plazas or parks built that have no use case defined before hand?
    What if they just are left at the “vision stage” and the use case is defined after the plaza or park is built (i.e. let the people do with it what they want).

    Or maybe that’s not possible. I don’t know – I can’t really think of an example of something existing that was not defined beforehand.

    • Steven: I like to read a variety of things that might not on the surface appear to be related to my own interests. I think we can all benefit from expananding our horizons. I would certainly like to do it moreso.

      One example of allowing people to form a project through use was at a university (can’t recall where) that allowed students to wear in their “desired paths” before they poured concrete to match them.

      It’s a longer process, sure. But I know that this Woodard Street vacation has been considered since at least late 2008. ~ Lynn

  3. Carter says:

    Lynn, I definitely understand where you’re coming from. But in 10 years of observing/making use of that strip of Woodard and the intersection on a near-daily basis, the strip is more of a problem than an outlet, due to the traffic habits I described.

    Defining the “community” is always a potential sticking point. Is it people who work on Milwaukee Ave right there? People who shop there? People who live in a 2, 3, or more block radius? Is it the artists & musicians who are looking to Hairpin to be a new hub & nerve center?

    I definitely look forward to more info tonight, but I’m assuming that having the Hairpin Lofts community art center across the street is the major impetus for this.

    In the Museum world we would describe this plaza as providing an inside-out opportunity for the Hairpin denizens, whomever they may be.

    It’s a good opportunity to get art & music being refined in the Hairpin lofts into a truly public space. And as Hairpin is a taxpayer-supported project, the public should be getting some tangible ROI.

  4. Carter says:

    So what did you think about the presentation? I actually was pleasantly surprised by the renderings, I love this idea but the small jpgs didn’t really do the plan much justice.

    I did not know about all the issues with Fireman’s Park, but I do think the distinction between it as a passive space (and a really odd location, honestly) and this as an active space was good. I’ve played many gigs at the public plaza spaces in Lincoln Square by Cafe Selmarie, North Center and others, and they are great for the neighborhood.

    You don’t always need paid/professional musicians either, a friend of mine busks every weekend outside of Cafe Selmarie as much for pleasure as for the tips (although she’s good, so she does well!), many acoustic musicians really enjoy playing outdoors, as that’s the setting many of the instruments evolved in. You don’t have all the usual hassles of bad acoustics, a terrible tinny PA system, etc.

    A lot of my immediate neighbors were there, weighing in on the snow issue. It’s an important issue, but I have to think we’re far more likely to get people to take an interest in keeping the space usable if this goes through – it really can’t be any worse, I wasn’t kidding about the lakes of water that collect at Woodard and Kimball during a typical rain, the drainage is awful there.

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