This is what happens when you try to hold a press conference unveiling a new “People Spot” in said People Spot’s space, ie, the street: A rumbling Streets & San truck pulls up alongside your shiny new parklet and drowns out the speaker. Score this round of man vs. machine to the machine, though the goal of the People Spot is pretty much the opposite.
Call it a People Spot or call it a parklet, Lakeview’s new seasonal open space, christened today at 2959 N. Lincoln Ave., is part of a broader initiative aimed at making neighborhoods across the city more pedestrian friendly by turning streets and alleys into communal gathering places. The Lakeview site is one of four pilot People Spots — the first debuted in Andersonville earlier this week — with a larger, more former rollout of the concept anticipated next year, according to Gabe Klein, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT).
The huge expansion of sidewalk cafes in the city over the past decade has been a strong indicator that particularly in the summer, Chicagoans want to be outside. But public outdoor space “is something that we lack” in Lakeview, said Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd).
In effect, the Lakeview People Spot, with its tables and chairs and planter boxes, extends the notion of the outdoor cafe into the street by reclaiming parking space as opposed to sidewalk, the main difference being the emphasis on the word “public”: Anyone can plunk themselves down and read a book, work a crossword or have a conversation without patronizing a local coffee shop or bistro. Though if you happen to notice the yoga studio staring you in the face, so much the better.
“Ironically, it is very Zen,” Robert Pelaski, owner of Samgha Yoga (2961 N. Lincoln Ave.), said of the People Spot’s design. Prior to the official opening, his clients were already using the space as a waiting area and he envisions the People Spot generating additional questions about and interest in his business.
No question, People Spots are as much about commerce as community. “We’re getting people back on the street, shopping and reinvigorating the local economy,” Waguespack said.
The $25,000 in funding for the People Spot was provided by SSA #27, which is managed by the Lakeview Chamber of Commerce. “I said yes before they even told us what it was,” said Heather Way, executive director of the Chamber. “We want Lakeview to be biking and pedestrian friendly.”
Staff at Heritage Bicycles, whose owner Michael Salvatore championed the project, will serve as stewards of the space, watering plants, securing furniture overnight and keeping an eye out for potential abuse although, as with most pilots, how that last piece will work hasn’t been clearly defined. “It’s got to be regulated somewhat,” Waguespack said.
The stickiest point in expanding People Spots to other neighborhoods (Way said the Lakeview Chamber is already looking for a second location on Southport) is the parking issue, and not just the elimination of spaces to make way for the parklet, which some consider controversial enough. “With anything you do there are early adopters and there are people who need to see it first,” said Klein. “We’ve got a whole bunch of businesses here who were excited to lose parking.”
There’s also the need to placate the parking deity, known as LAZ, with an offering of sacrificial parking spaces elsewhere in the city. What LAZ giveth, LAZ will also be sure to taketh back.
Klein is hoping to find enough unregulated parking spaces — unused loading zones, for example — to accommodate what he anticipates to be if not a flood then at least a steady stream of requests for more People Spots.
“We’d like to bring it to as many people as want to put in the time and work these people did,” Klein said. “What’s nice about this is it’s not government cramming something down people’s throat. Let the people have what they want.”