How might 2019 shake out? Well, you might get some idea of how life on the West Side might be based on our coverage of some of the biggest stories to happen in 2018. Below is a month-by-month recap of some of the biggest stories in 2018, which resonate in the New Year.
January | ‘Dream’ restaurant opens. Nichelle Benford opens Dream Chef Kitchen & Restaurant, 611 S. California Ave., in the Garfield Park neighborhood. The grand opening was held Jan. 27. The restaurant serves comfort foods like chicken, beef pot roast, salmon, and salads. Dinner meals run between $9 and $14 and desserts are also available.
Key Elementary sold. The Chicago Board of Education approved the $175,000 sell of Francis Scott Key Elementary on Jan. 24 to The Field School, which had been operating in Oak Park at the time. The Field School plans to use the space at 517 N. Parkside as a K-8 school to educate about 300 diverse students, school head Jeremy Mann said.
February | Eco Orchard gets much-needed funding. The Chicago City Council voted unanimously on Feb. 28 to approve spending $500,000 to build a fruit orchard somewhere on the stretch of 5th Avenue, between Kedzie Avenue and Sacramento Boulevard.
The Garfield Park Community Council had been lobbying for the project for years. As the officials explained, they were responding to something they heard from residents who shopped at Garfield Park Farmers Market. The customers wanted fruit, but they didn’t have anywhere to grow it.
March | Emmet purchased by West Side nonprofit. At a community meeting on March 7, Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th) announced that the Westside Health Authority, the well-known social service organization, bought the former Emmet Elementary school building. The nonprofit is still working on redevelopment plans for the space.
City approves ‘Cop Academy’ funds. During a special May 25 meeting, the Chicago City Council voted 39-2 to approve using $20 million of proceeds from the sale of the Elston Corridor public works facility to help finance the construction of the controversial emergency services training center.
West Side Aldermen Michael Scott (24th), Jason Ervin (28th), Chris Taliaferro (29th) and Emma Mitts (37th) — whose ward encompasses the proposed project — all voted for the measure.
The vote came amid vocal protests, as activists from Black Lives Matter, the #NoCopAcademy coalition and other organizations continued to argue that the estimated $95 million the city expects to spend on the training center would be better spent on education, mental health treatment and improving access to job opportunities.
April | Students march for their lives. In a show of strength, the newly formed student organization Good Kids Mad City helps organize a March 14 walkout to protest the structural violence that the organization’s members said was missing from the national conversation in the wake of the Feb. 14 mass shooting at Florida’s Marjory Stonemon Douglas High School, which prompted the nationwide walkouts.
May | Stiffer gun penalties passed. An ordinance introduced by Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th) that increases the punishment for those carrying illegal guns near senior housing centers passes City Council.
Anyone caught carrying an illegal gun within 500 feet of any senior housing in Chicago will face fines and, if they do it more than once, possible jail time ranging from 30 days to six months.
Taliaferro introduced the ordinance in May 2017, in response to what he saw while visiting a senior home in his ward. The Chicago City Council voted unanimously to approve the ordinance on May 25.
June | Part of Austin school gets extreme makeover. On June 6 and June 7, officials with the Cal Ripken, Sr. Foundation, UnitedHealthcare and CBS EcoMedia stopped by Austin College and Career Academy, 231 N. Pine Ave., to help renovate the school’s interior.
The renovations included a dance studio with mirrors and ballet bars; upgrade the school’s weight room with new equipment; clean and enhance the locker room by installing new cabinets and whiteboards; and clean and improve the garden by assembling new seating and adding new mulch.
July | Westside community triage center opens. The facility at 4133 W. Madison St. features a 24/7 emergency drop-off point, where first responders can send people who require psychiatric intervention and addiction treatment. There’s also a waiting room where police officers and emergency medical technicians can sit and drink coffee while clients are being processed.
Community members can indulge in free training exercises on relaxation, yoga, tai chi, mindfulness and meditation. The center also offers a range of medical, mental health and addiction-related services for those people with more immediate needs.
Ald. Jason Ervin’s (28th) towing ordinance approved. On July 25, the Chicago City Council unanimously approved an ordinance designed to tackle the ongoing issue that affects much of the West Side — cars being illegally parked and abandoned in vacant city-owned lots.
One of the issues with addressing the problem in the past has been that the city couldn’t move the car if the lot didn’t have a “no parking” sign. And when the city did put up signs, they have been known to get removed in a few days.
With the measure now in place, the city has an option of putting “no parking” stickers on the vehicle’s windshield. If the vehicle isn’t moved within seven days, the city can tow it.
August | Austin leaders help organize Lake Shore Drive shutdown. Leaders Network co-chairmen Rev. Ira Acree and Rev. Marshall Hatch each said a prayer at different points during the march on Aug. 2, which emphasized the stark economic differences between the city’s predominantly white North Side and its predominantly black South and West Sides. A few hundred protestors shut down Lake Shore Drive during rush hour before terminating the demonstration outside of Wrigley Field.
Amara Enyia announces mayoral bid. On Aug. 28, Amara Enya, a West Side resident and executive director of the Austin Chamber of Commerce, announced that she’ll run for mayor in February 2019, making her the first West Sider to hop into the crowded race.
September | Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel won’t seek reelection. Mayor Emanuel made the announcement on Sept. 4, causing a tsunami of reactions across the country, including from West Side leaders like Rev. Ira Acree, pastor of Greater St. John Bible Church in Austin, who said that the announcement in essence a concession that he can’t defend his abysmal record of the tale of two cities and all of the problems he has failed to fix.”
October | Jason Van Dyke found guilty. On Oct. 5, a jury found Van Dyke guilty of second-degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery with a firearm — four years after fatally shooting 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, who was holding a knife while walking away from the officer in a street on the city’s Southwest Side.
The verdict prompted a collective sigh of relief among West Side community leaders, who were bracing for the fallout if Van Dyke was found not guilty.
November | On Nov. 8, state Rep. La Shawn K. Ford (8th), a longtime Austin resident, kicked off his campaign for mayor. His was the first mayoral launch to take place in Austin. Ford’s kickoff was held at Sankofa Cultural Arts and Business Center, 5820 W. Chicago Ave.
December | The Hatchery opens. On Dec. 6, The Hatchery, a $34 million food and beverage incubator in West Garfield Park, officially opened after months of backlash from residents who complained that the establishment will facilitate gentrification and that its developers did not adequately reach out to community members.
Austin Quality of Life plan unveiled. On Dec. 15, more than 250 people packed Michele Clark Magnet High School’s auditorium to celebrate the unveiling of a quality-of-life plan for Austin.
The plan had been in the works for two-plus years and involved more than 400 people, many of them Austin residents and business owners.
“Today is a very important and special day in Austin,” said Darnell Shields, executive director of Austin Coming Together, which oversaw the creation of the plan.
The next one to five years will be devoted to executing the plan.