Community input, responsiveness of elected officials, the difference between project success or failure
July 5, 2019

Photo Courtesy Prairie District Neighborhood Alliance
Alderman Pat Dowell (right), with Allyson Allison (left), Dowell’s director of constituent services, meeting with the public. Dowell’s openness to community input resulted in a proposed CTA station being moved to a more community friendly location.

When elected officials, governmental entities, and activist groups seek and listen to community input, projects go smoothly and the end results more frequently provide community benefits. When these individuals and entities do not allow the community to participate in the process, or have their voices heard with more than just a wink and a nod, controversy and chaos often result. Then the community is left for years to deal with the aftermath.

In the Tri-Taylor community, which is under the domain of the Illinois Medical District Commission, a controversy has resulted from community members suddenly discovering that a 2018 video outlining the Commission’s plans for Gateway Chicago, a mixed-use development covering ten acres between Harrison and Polk Streets, seemed to imply the tearing down of the 311 Center and the Central West Regional Senior Center. IMD marketing and communications staff say the IMD has no plans to demolish either building. We hope that is true. The community wants those buildings to remain for the benefits they provide, and so they should remain.

In addition, some thought the video implied that there would be two residential towers of at least 20 stories high in the Gateway. The IMD says these structures will be 15 stories high. We hope that is true as well. The community wants those buildings to be of more modest height so as not to “tower over” the rest of the neighborhood, and that is what the IMD and the developers should build.

The IMD would do well to continue to seek community input and hold public meetings as the Gateway project has yet to enter the residential phase of construction. Doing so would avoid such controversies in the future. We also would like to see Alderman Jason Ervin of the 28th Ward take a more active and vocal role in seeing that the demands of the community are met in this development.

As an example, the IMD and Ervin can look at the work of Alderman Pat Dowell of the 3rd Ward concerning the location of a proposed Chicago Transit Authority station related to The 78 development. Developers wanted to put the station on the east side of Clark Street near Cotton Tail Park. Dowell held multiple community meetings and found that the residents did not want it there. So she made sure developers will put the station on the west side of Clark at 15th resulting in a big win for the community.

Any new tax is controversial, and that’s what the West Loop Community Organization is seeking in the Fulton Market area concerning a proposed Special Service Area that would assure more City services. Businesses appear to favor the SSA, but residents are concerned about yet another demand on the pocketbooks of beleaguered taxpayers. Carla Agonstinelli, execuitve director of WLCO, has encouraged communication and outreach.

WLCO and proponents of the SSA will do well to remember the recent controversy over an SSA in Chinatown, with many in the area feeling that it was being forced on them by a minority of business owners, some with clout with the former Emanuel administration and with the former, disgraced 25th Ward Alderman, Daniel Solis. No wonder the whole process left a bitter taste with Chinatown residents, with the law requiring only a 20% approval rate needed for passage. That’s democracy? As Roger Romanelli of the Fulton Market Association said, that low percentage for enactment is something Mayor Lori Lightfoot ought to be looking into.

Governor JB Pritzker also needs to hear this call for a fairer process and should be looking into why his recreational marijuana legalization proposals appear to be crowding out smaller craft growers in favor of current medical marijuana dispersers, who have large facilities, big capital investments, and clout and lobbyists behind them. As happens all too often in Illinois, the big corporate interests appear to be overpowering small business owners and entrepreneurs. This would not have surprised us under the leadership of former Republican Governor Bruce Rauner, but we expect better from a Democratic governor such as Pritzker. We also urge Governor Pritzker to take a much longer look, and seek community feedback, related to issues surrounding the legalization of marijuana and what it has cost other states as a result of an increased number of crashes and fatalities due to impaired drivers; increased insurance costs for drivers due to the rise in crashes; and an increase in access to marijuana for under-age residents.

Governor Pritzker and our other elected elected officials, governmental entities, and activist groups, would do well not only to look at Dowell’s example, but that of Cook County Assessor Fritz Kaegi, who came up with the idea of a two-month listening tour, with him traveling to various communities to find out what taxpayers actually want concerning tax reform.

Asking the people what they want, and then doing it. What a novel idea! We certainly hope it catches on. Especially at a time when Chicagoans are feeling more and more left out of the process and more and more left holding the bag.