Crossing Austin Boulevard: This story is part of an ongoing series of articles that Austin Weekly News publishes about issues, events, people, places and things that take place west of Austin Boulevard, but that nonetheless resonate to the east of it, as well.
Oak Parkers and Galewood residents are invited to the official unveiling of what organizers hope is the first of many murals that will help bridge the divide between the two communities along North Avenue. The murals are part of what organizers are calling the North Art Bridge series.
The mural series is spearheaded by The North Avenue District, an organization that aims to revitalize the North Avenue commercial corridor between Harlem Avenue and Austin Boulevard on both Oak Park and Chicago sides.
Judith Alexander, the organization’s chairwoman, said that busy traffic and a shortage of good pedestrian crossings hinders the ability of residents of the two communities to patronize each others’ businesses. She hopes the mural series helps change that reality.
The first mural in the series was installed outside of Code Ninjas, a computer coding school for kids at 7119 W. North Ave. in Oak Park. The mural was painted by young people who attend St. Giles Catholic Parish school, which is located in Oak Park, but serves Galewood, as well. The celebration will take from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Nov. 13.
Alexander said getting more people from both sides to cross North Avenue is a major component of her organization’s vision.
“We really want to turn North Avenue from a barrier to a bridge,” she said. “North Avenue is difficult to cross — physically and literally. [During the 2018 Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning North Avenue Revitalization and Mobility Plan study], I think about 30 percent of people said that they don’t cross North Avenue. And some of the business owners told me, ‘I sure wish I could get people from the other side.’”
But art alone won’t surmount the physical barriers to access along the busy corridor. Alexander said her organization is also pushing for better crosswalks, sidewalk improvements, more landscaping and traffic calming measures.
The murals, she said, will help with cultural revitalization in the area. Alexander cited Wicker Park and Pilsen as examples of communities where street art has played roles in community revitalization.
Alexander’s organization was instrumental in the Oak Park Area Arts Council’s 2o18 installation of a mural on the west wall of the Wonder Works Children’s Museum on the Oak Park side of the corridor, at 6445 W. North Ave.
She said the new mural installed outside of Code Ninjas is ideally located at the intersection of North and Harlem avenues, where Oak Park, Chicago, River Forest and Elmwood Park converge.
“It’s a wonderful location, on the corner of North and Harlem, so it’s kind of an entryway to our district,” she said. “And the murals will be facing North Avenue and they’re large and colorful, so they’ll be a wonderful welcome.”