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A Community-Driven Planning Process, in the Age of COVID

From Uptown to Woodlawn, MPC has used a unique, hands-on convening method to understand neighbors’ desires regarding future development in their communities. When it comes to a garden in Rogers Park, here’s what we’re doing differently this year.

Not far from the CTA Howard transit hub, you escape the hustle and bustle of the city to hear bees buzzing and hoses running. At the corner of Howard and Ashland, a Rogers Park community garden is one of the only city-owned parcels in its vicinity. As Alderwoman Maria Hadden is committed to community-participatory processes for the ward, she approached MPC to better understand Rogers Park residents’ desires for the future of that site. Our goal is to solicit, understand, and document the community’s vision and voices, in order to inform any future development before it breaks ground, in partnership with CityOpen Workshop.

“Many times when it comes to planning and development we see… the displacement of people. We see development that doesn’t take community opinions into account. What we are doing differently in our participatory planning process is to make sure that neighbors in the 49th Ward, residents around Howard Street… get to say what we want to see here. And working with the Metropolitan Planning Council and the Department of Planning and Development, we’re actually going to put together a list and proposal that then developers will respond to.” —Alderwoman Maria Hadden, 49th Ward

What is a Corridor Development Initiative?

A Corridor Development Initiative is traditionally a three-meeting process that we have conducted across the city from Uptown to Hyde Park, and most recently, in Woodlawn. Typically there is a kick-off event, a design workshop, and a review event. Development finance, architects, and other professionals bring real-world scenario planning for the hopes and desires of the community members during the design charrette. The consensus-based ideas are then incorporated into city-based Request for Proposals (RFPs), where developers submit their ideas for approval with the city.

Notable victories of past CDIs include helping facilitate a real-world scenario for the beloved Washington Park National Bank in Woodlawn with The Cook County Land Bank, as well as influencing the newly-approved 100% Affordable Housing Complex coming to Logan Squarecommonly known as “Emmett Street Development,” by Bickerdike.

How does COVID-19 throw a wrench in our typical Corridor Development Initiative process?

Normally we physically bring people together. They assemble wooden blocks on maps. Architects sketch visions in real-time. Development finance professionals ask hard questions about gives-and-takes. Neighbors chat across round tables over snacks. But in a pandemic, public health is a top priority, and gathering in-person—if feasible at all—takes special care.

So how did we creatively revise things this year?

While virtual events have quickly become the norm, we took the opportunity to improve our tried-and-true Corridor Development Initiative process to become a hybrid format. This year, we are experimenting with three virtual sessions with building virtual blocks through SketchUp, a 3D modeling application, four in-person sessions in small groups capped at 10 participants each, and a take-home Do-It-Yourself kit with the potential to reach three times more than the typical audience for the design workshop. It is important to us to invite wide participation as we reimagined the Corridor Development Initiative during and beyond a pandemic.

Prior to the start, we formed and convened an on-going advisory committee to help shape the project. We thank the 49th Ward Office, Peterson Garden Project: Hello Howard Community Garden, A Just HarvestGale Community Academy LSC, Good News Partners, Housing Opportunities for Women, Howard Area Community Center, James Schneider Apartments, Rogers Park Business AllianceRogers Park Builders Group and ONE Northside for the ongoing support and commitment to achieving equity through community-based participatory planning. Whether it’s flyering, translating, talking to residents, or conducting street intercept surveying, the partners have engaged and outreach to their constituency alongside our city partners including the Department of Planning and Development (DPD), Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH), Department of Housing (DOH), Chicago Transit Authority (CTA), and Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT).

What happened at the first meeting?

Over 100 participants tuned in to our first meeting on October 1 on Zoom or on Facebook Live through the Alderwoman’s Facebook page. Leading up the the meeting, we released introductory videos that discussed the basics of the CDI to housing pressures in Rogers Park. We had a text messaging set up with the Alderwoman’s SMS service. At the meeting, we asked stakeholders some polls in an interactive Mentimeter format to learn more about residents’ desires and needs. We heard from the residents about the need for green space and gathering spaces to be preserved before heading into the design workshops. We offered a Spanish channel on Zoom and had all flyers translated in both English and Spanish. We also offered an accessible dictation option on Zoom.  You can check out the action here.

What’s next?

Our next meetings include a series of design workshops where we. We’re even building design kits so that people can participate at home with printed base maps and foam blocks to build across the site – just like Legos! You can participate in the in-person sessions on the 10th at Gale Community Academy (10 am-3:30 pm) or at the last virtual workshop on the October 14th on Zoom. The final Community Review session will take place on October 29th on Zoom and Facebook Live.

The pandemic forced us to get creative. But with an opportunity like this where the parcel is a community gathering space, we knew it was important to gather voices in ways we have never had through our past Corridor Development Initiative gatherings. We are looking forward to having you join us on this journey. #rogersparkcdi