City wants to turn streets, alleys, plazas into outdoor fun spots
BY FRAN SPIELMAN City Hall Reporter email@example.com June 6, 2012 4:42PM
A Chicago Department of Transportation rendering of a proposed "People Spot," which would turn parking spaces in some areas into public seating spots in warmer months. The city is also looking into creating such spaces on public sidewalks, alleys and str
Updated: July 8, 2012 6:56PM
Designated Chicago streets, alleys, plazas and parking lanes may soon be painted blue with campy white footprints and filled with public seating, music, farmer’s markets and other seasonal activities.
Determined to promote economic development and make Chicago streets safer for pedestrians, Mayor Rahm Emanuel got the ball rolling Wednesday on an innovative program he calls, “Make Way for People.”
It’s actually four separate initiatives under the same umbrella:
■ PEOPLE SPOTS: These are “temporary decks” — roughly 50 feet long and seven feet wide — that remove parking spots and replace them with public seating during the spring, summer and early fall.
“It feels like you’ve extended the sidewalk. You’ve reallocated parking space for sidewalk space in the same time frame as a sidewalk café,” said Janet Attarian, project director for streetscape and sustainable design programs for the city’s Department of Transportation.
“But, unlike a café where an individual business is paying for use of the sidewalk, these are open to the public. You might go to an adjacent restaurant, buy a sandwich and eat it there or bring a brown bag lunch.”
Already, the city has identified four pilot people spot locations: Lincoln Avenue between Southport and Lakewood in conjunction with the Lakeview Chamber of Commerce; Clark Street and Farragut with the Andersonville Chamber of Commerce; 47th Street and Greenwood and 47th and Champlain with Quad Communities Development Corp.
■PEOPLE STREETS: These are streets with, what Attarian calls, “excess asphalt.” They could be wide streets that could be narrowed, dead-end streets that “don’t need to be there and could be closed off,” or streets that the community would like to cul-de-sac.
Last month, the city worked with DePaul University to create a people street on Kenmore just south of Fullerton, a street the university hopes to permanently close.
“You paint the street, put out planters and ballards, close it off using a quick, temporary method and find a private partner to program that space for different activities,” Attarian said.
“If it works for the community, it can be turned into a permanent amenity. If it doesn’t, it’s really easy to dismantle.”
■PEOPLE PLAZAS: Chicago has a ton of plazas and malls in various states of upkeep that could be “activated” to create space for farmers markets and other retail opportunities. The city plans to issue “requests for proposals” to solicit private partners that would agree to make capital improvements in exchange for sponsorship.
Attarian pointed to Giddings Plaza in Lincoln Square. Giddings dead-ends into Lincoln, so the city closed it off and created a plaza that a local taxing district programmed with live music.
“Go there on a Thursday, and it’s packed with families. We don’t want to do just one or two of them. We’d like to have more and more across the city,” Attarian said.
■PEOPLE ALLEYS: During evening hours when Chicago alleys are not used for the nitty-gritty of garbage collection and deliveries, tables and chairs could be put out for a few hours with live music or art exhibitions.
Los Angeles used polka dots to designate its new public spaces. A CDOT website on the program has all of the new public spaces painted blue with white footprints.
“I’m not saying that’s what we’re gonna do, but we might have footprints. You want to brand them and make them something people will recognize. Something that’s fun and makes them stand out,” she said.
“Why is it that you want to go and hang out at Lincoln Square, Wells Street or Millennium Park? There’s a sense that this is a cool place. I feel comfortable and safe here. There are interesting things to do. I can people watch. What do you do with infrastructure to support that?”
Heather Way, executive director of the Lakeview Chamber of Commerce, said the “people spot” at 2959 N. Lincoln will actually be a 400-square-foot mini-park in a parking lane with tables, benches and semi-permanent landscaping. The budget is $40,000.
“The goal is to create a space where people can sit, relax, read, have a cup of coffee, meet with their neighbors and experience their community in a different way,” she said.
“What’s lacking is place for people to just sit and talk with one another and be outdoors. It’s big in other parts of the world. We hope it will create additional economic activity in the area.”