Resistance begins at home, and there is a lot to resist right in our own communities
September 1, 2017

The proposed new Roosevelt Library to be built on West Taylor Street, along with 73 units of housing, has been met with community opposition. The seven-story structure will tower over existing Taylor Street dwellings and businesses, not shown in this artist’s rendering of the new structure.

There is a lot to resist these days, and Pilsen Alliance is showing us the way.

Whether the issue is gentrification, pollution, or now the eradication of a beloved mural in the community, Pilsen Alliance consistently is able to make developers, polluters, or elected officials change their behavior. Pilsen Alliance will negotiate, but its members also will march and make their opponents uncomfortable if that’s what it takes.

When a developer inexplicably painted over a beloved mural in the community (employing a contractor using the Trumpian hashtag of #makingchicagogreatagain—how disgusting), Pilsen Alliance swung into action and extracted a promise from the developer that one of the original artists would be allowed to recreate the mural. The developer went public saying he would even fly the artist in from California—now that’s being effective. We have not seen that happen yet as of this writing, but if it doesn’t, the developer will not have seen the last of Pilsen Alliance.

“We’ll do whatever we must to bring him to the table, even if we have to annoy him,” said Pilsen Alliance Executive Director Byron Sigcho. “Anything to bring him to terms.”

People are in more of a resisting mood than at any time since the 1960s, and there are a few other occurrences in the community worth resisting.

How about the City’s plan for a new Taylor Street library with six stories of mixed-use housing above it? We actually are not against the mixed-use formula for this site as it follows the Telesis approved Transformation Plan for Roosevelt Square (i.e, the Chicago Housing Authority’s 3,500-plus units that made up the former ABLA community). The Transformation Plan was agreed to by this community more than 15 years ago. We agree with Alderman Jason Ervin that low-income units does not mean high crime, and we would welcome some former ABLA residents back to the community that was their home for years until the CHA displaced them.  Our concern remains that with so many years gone by, how will the CHA guarantee that those former residents can find their way back home?

We are opposed to these plans for other important reasons.

The architecture is terrible. At seven stories, the building will tower over the mostly two- and three-story buildings along Taylor Street. Frankly, most of the designs of Related Midwest buildings in Roosevelt Square are underwhelming and uninspired—nothing creative or beautiful. After years of the community waiting for Roosevelt Square to start up again, this is the best they can come up with?

There is not enough parking, and the loss of the open lot that the library will be built on will be devastating for local businesses. The City expects valets to park cars at a different lot at Taylor and Racine. That is simply too far away. Why not just build the library at Racine and leave the parking lot as is?  By doing so, the library becomes a gateway to Roosevelt Square and the Taylor Street thoroughfare—but only if the design receives a significant facelift. With all the available land at this intersection, enough parking spaces can be set-aside for residents and the library. Is anyone thinking about the future, by the way?  If Richard Driehaus ever gets the national public housing museum off the ground on Taylor Street, just east of the current proposed library/residential site, where will museum patrons park?

We are asking community members to take a page from Pilsen Alliance’s playbook and start protesting. We also ask our local aldermen, Jason Ervin, Danny Solis, and Patrick Thompson to take the lead in slowing down the approval process in the City Council and rethink this project.

Speaking of something to protest, why is the Taylor Street community, which is not that big in geographic area to start with, split among three aldermen, so community residents never know to whom to speak concerning issues? Remapping of the wards will come shortly after the 2020 census, and it’s not too early to let the City and your elected representatives know that we would like the community reunited in one ward once again. Your ability to be properly represented is more important that alderman finding gerrymandered ways to carve out enough votes for reelection.

And while we are on Taylor Street, why is it that the National Italian-American Sports Hall of Fame and the University Village Association, an organization so non-existent that neighbors have formed a new community organization called the Little Italy Chicago Neighborhood Association, are splitting $30,000 plus from profits from Festa Italiana? Shouldn’t the money go someplace that will actually help the community?

Moving to the Near South area and the controversy over turning National Teachers Academy into a high school, we are all in favor of a diverse high school for the community—but only if the needs of current NTA children and families are met, and not just the students who are being allowed to finish out their grade school years at NTA. Children within the current NTA boundaries must have access to both the current South Loop Elementary School and the new building planned at 16th and Dearborn. NTA families should also be able to learn in these state-of-the-science facilities. Are the community and Alderman Pat Dowell willing to put into writing that NTA families will have guaranteed admission to the new high school? They should be.

Yes, there is a lot to question, a lot to protest, and a lot to resist these days. And you don’t have to look only at the national scene to do it. Resistance starts at home, and you can take your pick of a variety of issues to question, protest, and resist right in our own community.

Another way to get started is to pick up a copy of the book by Tom Tresser and friends called Chicago Is Not Broke: Funding the City We Deserve, and host a Book Meeting-in-a-Box at your home. If you want to take an added bold step, invite your local Alderman to the follow-up meeting and live chat with Tresser. Wouldn’t that be something, considering that only one of the Alderman that represent Gazette Chicago communities returned our reporter’s calls to weigh in on the book (and that person decline to comment). Maybe Bryon Sigcho and the Pilsen Alliance can offer you some suggestions on how to get your Alderman at the table.

So get out there and get engaged, stand up for your community, and have your voices heard. And by all means, at all times, resist!