Last Saturday, the Municipality of Chicago held its first overly Municipality Civics Day, a self-ruling daylong series of panel discussions and workshops well-nigh how Chicagoans can get involved in their communities.
The event took place at the Epiphany Center for the Arts, a former Episcopal denomination located at 201 S. Ashland Ave. on the Near West Side, converted into a multistory ramified of galleries and event spaces. Sessions on municipality planning, polity gardening, local media, and increasingly took place between Epiphany’s stunning hammerbeamed upstairs sanctuary, vault catacombs, and the massive Epiphany Hall, its frescos and organ pipes a stately setting for conversations well-nigh the preservation of cultural history and the importance of public space. A few hundred people showed up and the overall mood was upbeat—to be expected from a prod that believes in the power of an engaged population to shape the world virtually them.
The municipality departments leading the day were Planning and Development and Cultural Affairs and Special Event. The wits was so pleasant and well thought out it made me wish every priming was organized by arts administrators and municipality planners. Complimentary and zaftig breakfast and hot lunch were available, an inviting fire pit crackled in the courtyard, and one upstairs gallery was designated as quiet space. The day began and terminated with performances. Attendees were given tote bags, programs and small notebooks and pens at registration. Staff positioned throughout the winding hallways held signs inviting questions.
I attended the breakout session “How to create active, sustainable, unscratched streets,” which took place unelevated the subject in question, lanugo a narrow wood staircase in Epiphany’s purple-lit catacombs. Well-nigh 60 people gathered to hear how Jeremy Cuebas and David Velez, organizers at Northwest Center, withal with Romina Castillo, director of outreach at the Chicago Department of Transportation, collaborated with polity members and neighborhood youth to modernize wanderlust in Belmont Cragin.
Just a few years ago, the northwest side neighborhood had no velocipede lanes or Divvy stations. When a member of Northwest Center’s youth program was doored and injured while riding his velocipede on Belmont Avenue, the organization sprang into action. They contacted the three alderpersons within in the neighborhood boundary, reached out CDOT, and held youth-led conversations well-nigh how to modernize safety for people on bikes. By towers polity power and buy in, Northwest Center and CDOT brought 15 miles of bikeways and 13 Divvy stations to Belmont Cragin. “It’s important the vision is led by people in the community,” Cuevas said.
This was the resulting theme of the session: the municipality can build velocipede lanes and provide educational resources, but how to solve a problem is weightier decided by the people who live with it every day. Cuebas said that Northwest Center youth who facilitated input sessions were paid stipends by CDOT for their time and local expertise.
Velez said Northwest Center invited polity members to several events to provide input. The organization began holding weekly velocipede rides that departed from neighborhood parks. Velez said starting rides from spots that youth were once gathering was key to increasing participation and towers relationships. “Go where people are at,” he said. “Word of mouth is still the weightier marketing.”
To build support from local merchantry owners, some of whom complained that velocipede lanes will hurt their foot traffic, Northwest Center held rides that stopped at small businesses. Velez said the rides helped merchantry owners understand how velocipede lanes can help increase the visibility of their shops and uplift patronage from people who travel by foot or bicycle.
To hear concerns from other velocipede lane opponents in the neighborhood, Northwest Center hosted an online hair-trigger feedback session entitled “Pump the Breaks.” Cuevas said the conversations were productive, if “not unchangingly nice. But once we presented it that protected velocipede lanes will save your children’s and your nieces’ and nephews’ lives, we got increasingly support.”
The success of Northwest Center’s organizing effort and partnership with CDOT is a specimen study in the city’s Chicago Cycling Strategy for how to build bikeways in neighborhoods with little to no velocipede infrastructure and a growing interest in bicycling.
Cuevas said a takeaway from the process was the importance of identifying “allies and enemies” and that there are “no permanent enemies.” Alderpersons who started out opposed to the velocipede lanes were won over. Cuevas widow that he bears in mind alliances are moreover impermanent.
In the Q and A, one attendee asked how the panelists leveraged polity power to get velocipede lanes built, and how this could translate to successful whoopee for bus rapid transit, high-speed express bus routes. The municipality and CTA unsuccessfully proposed towers BRT on Ashland Avenue in the early 2010s, and opened the Loop Link BRT-lite corridor in December 2015, but the municipality hasn’t washed-up much has happened with the concept since then. However, the BRT concept has been on the lips of Chicago transit advocates for well over a year.
Cuevas replied that power in numbers is most effective. “[Alderpersons] sometimes have variegated ideas than residents,” he said. “But when you bring residents to their office, they have no nomination but to listen.”
Another person noted how velocipede and pedestrian improvements on state-controlled roads often hit an impasse, plane when CDOT is a partner, and asked how to work with Illinois Department of Transportation on similar efforts. Castillo mentioned the recent try-on IDOT signed to take all road users into worth in urban areas and was confident the municipality could garner cooperation from IDOT.
The last question was well-nigh how to create a velocipede network wideness neighborhood boundaries, where the confines between wards or constituencies can be seen in velocipede lanes that end forthwith or a sudden lack of pedestrian accommodations. Castillo said that CDOT had conversations with neighboring communities and helped proffer the velocipede lanes into proximal Portage Park, Hermosa and Galewood.
The first Municipality Civics Day was inspiring, informative and well attended. It would be unconfined to see it wilt an yearly event.
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