Coming up on a year since he took office, “there’s been a lot of progress and more work needs to be done,” Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th) told members of the Northcenter Chamber of Commerce at their monthly luncheon, held March 22, at Coonley Elementary, 4046 N. Leavitt St. During his wide-ranging comments and the Q&A session that followed, Pawar touched on education, city services and a number of initiatives aimed at strengthening the Northcenter community in the long term.
Strong schools make for strong neighborhoods
Anyone who’s heard Pawar’s stump speech on education knows that the alderman believes a neighborhood’s economic success is inherently tied to the success of its schools. Case in point: Pawar pointed to the premium families are willing to pay for homes located in the footprints of Bell and Coonley Elementaries.
Where the majority of the ward’s elementary schools have become viable options for parents, the same cannot be said for the neighborhood’s high schools. According to Pawar, of the 385 eighth graders residing in the 47th Ward, only 20 percent enrolled at Lake View or Amundsen High School last year. The remainder opted for a selective enrollment school, private school or headed for the suburbs.
“We can’t be a waiting room for the suburbs,” said Pawar. “We’ve got to figure out how to keep families here.”
Acknowledging that he can’t solve CPS’ larger problems, Pawar noted that the recent announcement of Lake View as a newly-designated STEM school is part of an effort to create, over time, a closed k-12 system within Northcenter’s and Lincoln Square’s boundaries. “We’re getting to that point,” he said. “I don’t think anyone should have to live in a pressure cooker environment just because they’re raising their family in the city.”
Streetscapes and greenways
Though their ultimate goals differ, both the planned streetscape on Lawrence Avenue and the proposed bike greenway on Berteau Avenue should have the same effect: encouraging more people to get around on bike or foot. In the case of Berteau, increased pedestrian and bicycle activity will make the area safer, with more eyes and ears on the street.
On Lawrence, the planned “road diet” from Clark to Western, narrowing the thoroughfare to a single lane, is intended to create a friendlier environment for both pedestrians and retailers. The Mariano’s development at Ravenswood is a step in that direction, with the hope that it will attract other businesses to the area, thereby diversifying the tax base and relieving homeowners’ burden. But “Lawrence Avenue is never going to develop to its full potential if cars don’t slow down,” said Pawar.
Graffiti Blasters has moved to a grid-based system similar to the city’s garbage collection, meaning that every 15 days, all of Graffiti Blasters resources are focused on the 47th Ward. Pawar anticipates that when the tree-trimming back log is cleared (a back log of 18,000 trees is now down to 10,000) more city crews will be shifted to graffiti removal, and that 15-day window will narrow. Graffiti near a school or church, particularly if it’s gang-related or includes hate symbols, will continue to receive priority.
Pawar recently celebrated the passage of his first city-wide ordinance, which prohibits employers from discriminating against job applicants based on their credit or employment history. “We take a punitive approach to people who’ve fallen on hard times,” he said. Recognizing that he was speaking to a room full of employers, the alderman added, “There is not a single study or data to suggest a link between a person’s credit history and whether they will steal,” joking that plenty of Wall Street raiders likely have excellent credit scores.
With his first legislative success as a freshman alderman under his belt, Pawar is now joining forces with Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) and Ald. Walter Burnett (27th) to address the issues of festival fees. The city recently changed its fee structure, eliminating all waivers and exceptions. “It was one size fits all,” said Pawar. “Large festivals like Lollapalooza are in a position to pay, and they should. We need to figure out a system that’s fair and doesn’t penalize neighborhood groups.” Like Northcenter’s Ribfest.
Fisheries on Ravenswood?
You wouldn’t want to eat a fish caught in the Chicago River, but what about one raised on Ravenswood? Urban agriculture legislation makes it possible for aquaponics farmers to now sell their fish. For those unfamiliar with aquaponics, Pawar offered a simplified explanation: Fish, such as tilapia, are raised in tanks of water. Their waste is siphoned off as fertilizer for plants, which are are also being grown in water as part of the same ecosystem.
This closed urban farming process is perfect for warehouse environments. “We’re hoping to get some operators on Ravenswood,” said Pawar, possibly combined with a brewery, whose spent grain could be used as feed for the fish.