McKinley Park Council creates development plan
June 7, 2019

Photo Courtesy Neighborhoods.com
The McKinley Park Development Council has comprehensive development plans, including affordable housing and rehabbing older housing stock, after receiving input from residents and business owners.

A gathering two years ago of concerned neighbors in McKinley Park to brainstorm ideas to make their neighborhood more viable has turned into a full-fledged effort with a formal current conditions report designed to fuel a comprehensive development plan.

Along the way, the McKinley Park Development Council formed and engaged with the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP). That partnership over the past year has combined agency expertise with input from almost 700 residents, businesses, and other local leaders to develop a roadmap to future development.

“Before this happened, development ideas were piecemeal,” said John Belcik, president of the McKinley Park Development Council and a founding board member. “The main goal is to provide some direction to the neighborhood, identifying what we lack and what we should have.”

Belcik said the community is seeing commercial property deterioration and an increasingly diverse population.

“Business has declined on 35th Street,” he said. “Archer Avenue lacks residential. We have an increase in the Latino population and recently also with the Asian population as a spillover from Chinatown. And there definitely has been an increase in millennials and young families. They are looking for affordable housing.”

The population also wants neighborhood amenities such as stores and restaurants as well as employers.

A project conditions report, based on a year’s worth of community input, addresses those needs, with the full plan to be developed this summer, said Ricardo Lopez of CMAP, who serves as project manager for the McKinley Park project.

“We had about 100 people at our May 16 meeting to see and give input to the conditions report,” Lopez said. “We’ll have the development plan recommendations by the end of the year.”

To get there, Lopez said the group will use the condition report’s five key findings:

Diversity: Maintain ethnic diversity by preserving a wide range of housing options for various income levels, if desired.

Reinvestment: Add new residential units and rehab older structures, focusing on equitable mixed-use housing to strengthen the community and spur economic development along Archer and Ashland Avenues and 35th Street.

Mobility: Identify missing connections and infrastructure improvements for pedestrians, bicyclists, commuters, and drivers.

Modernize: Revitalize the historic manufacturing district, targeting sustainable renewable projects that will maintain local jobs. At the same time, develop this aspect while ensuring separation of manufacturing and residential areas.

Resilience: Address infrastructure, as one-inch rains typically yield ten million gallons of runoff per block, particularly along Archer Avenue and the industrial districts. Because experts predict large storms to increase in frequency and intensity in the future, the plan needs to explore ways to build resilience by making infrastructure natural systems and social structures more durable.

“Our goal is to help the community to initiate a shared vision and a road map,” Lopez said. “McKinley is a passionate community of residents who care and are involved. That energy makes our job easier.

“Each piece builds on the other,” he added. “The short-term strategy takes about a year, but the ongoing work is really about three to five years. We are also in the process of identifying future partners as resources for McKinley Park.”

Continuing support also will come from the 12th Ward, said Ald. George Cardenas. His office has participated in CMAP interviews and has staffed the project’s steering committee. He said he was impressed with the existing conditions report he saw while attending the recent visioning workshop.

“This community driven neighborhood plan will become the basis for future planning and decision making,” he said. “I will continue to be supportive in any way I can and stay engaged throughout the process.”

The prospect of reimagining McKinley Park comes as welcome news to Dayna Calderon, a cultural arts professional, long-time resident, and member of the planning council.

“It’s really an exciting project, something that McKinley Park fell into with the support of CMAP,” Calderon said. “This is kind of a learning curve for all of us, and one of the benefits is getting to know more of the community. I think about how the community can change for me as well as everyone else over the next five to ten years.”

CMAP began in 2005, and its Local Technical Assistance program started in 2010. More on the McKinley Park plan, including the full conditions report as well as CMAP background, is available at www.cmap.illinois.gov/programs/LTA/mckinley-park.     

—Rick Romano