The lakefront aside, much of Lakeview is sorely lacking in green space. “We’ve got to get creative,” says Heather Way, executive director of the Lakeview Chamber of Commerce. That’s just what the community is doing, participating in a pilot program that will turn a small stretch of Lincoln Avenue, and by Lincoln Avenue we mean the actual street, into a “parklet.”
“It’s more like an extension of a sidewalk cafe,” Way says of the proposed space. Three parking spots outside of Heritage Bicycles, 2959 N. Lincoln Ave., will be stripped to make way for a deck, planters and some form of seating (the design is still in progress); the opening is planned for June. Counted in feet as opposed to acres, the parklet will measure 40′ by 10′–Yellowstone it ain’t–with a buffer zone on either end to protect the park from cars and park-goers from sucking on exhaust fumes while sipping their iced tea. All are welcome to use the park, not just Heritage customers.
“One of Mayor Emanuel’s big things is making way for people,” says Way, and getting Chicagoans outdoors. The emphasis on public space–which has taken hold in New York, San Francisco and various European cities–is also in keeping with Lakeview’s own master plan (LAMP). “It’s really about enhancing the pedestrian experience,” she says.
In fact, it was LAMP that convinced the Chicago Department of Transportation to bring the parklet idea to the Chamber, which has gained a reputation for “pie-in-the-sky ideas,” according to Way. Just nine months after CDOT’s initial pitch, the project is already slated for presentation before City Council’s finance and transportation committee on April 18. “It’s moving very quickly,” says Way.
Michael Salvatore, owner of Heritage Bikes, seemed a natural partner for the pilot. Not only will his business not mind losing the parking spaces–hello, it’s a bike shop–but he actually set up a parklet on his own initiative prior to the store’s grand opening in January.
“I was definitely flattered,” he says of being approached by the Chamber. “It was an obvious fit. It’s a great addition not only to my storefront but Lincoln in general. How fun would it be to see trees in the middle of the street. It just gets people really excited.”
Though naturally reserved–”I don’t really believe anything until it happens”–Salvatore is hard-pressed to contain his enthusiasm for the parklet. He’s already posted info about the project to the company’s Facebook page, his theory being that treating the green space like a done deal will make it so. A video blog is even in the works to track the progress of construction.
“I’ve been proactive trying to make things happen, I’ll reach out to anybody, whatever I can do,” he says. Though technically the Chamber is responsible for the park, which will remain open through October until it’s packed away for storage through the winter, Heritage has pledged to help with maintenance and to recruit volunteers and materials. “I want the community to be part of it,” Salvatore says. “I don’t want to take ownership of it. My space is a communal space; this is an extension of that.”
CDOT is working on securing two additional pilot partners, aiming for parklets on the South and West Sides as well as Lakeview. Says Way, “We’re hoping that after this year, they’ll just start popping up all over the city.”
Speaking of creative use of public space, the Chamber, under the umbrella of Friends of Lakeview, is moving forward with plans to open a Low-Line Market this summer at the Southport Brown Line station. Details are still being finalized, but Way anticipates a mid-June opening on Thursday nights, with 12 vendors. As opposed to a traditional farmers market, the Low-Line will place less emphasis on fresh produce and more on prepared foods and hand-made crafts, similar to the French and Dose Markets.