North Lawndale residents brainstorm ideas for improving Ogden Avenue during the Oct. 5 workshop. | Credit: Igor Studenkov/Staff Reporter

North Lawndale residents offered several ideas for improving the stretch of Ogden Avenue that mostly runs through the community – but some were leery that the benefits won’t go to the blocks that need improvements most.

The Chicago Department of Transportation is currently in the early stages of developing a multi-modal transportation plan for the section of Ogden Avenue between Pulaski and Roosevelt Roads. The idea is to improve the roadway to reduce accidents, make it more friendly to drivers, bus riders, cyclists and pedestrians alike, and to encourage future development. CDOT already held a public meeting and two community workshops to get resident ideas – most recently this August – and it plans to hold more throughout this year and next year.

The Oct. 5 workshop, which was held at the Lawndale Christian Health Center, was supposed to focus on placemaking – what kind of seating, public plazas and other pedestrian-orientated amenities the corridor should have. But much of the discussion focused on the scope of the project, and the history the corridor as part of the iconic Route 66.  Some residents felt improvements should go further southwest, where they thought they were needed most. And there were concerns about opportunities the project would create for local businesses.

CDOT planner Vanessa Irizarry said that the agency chose to limit the project to Pulaski to Roosevelt portion because this stretch of Ogden because it’s the part that has service drives – the lanes closest to the sidewalks that are separated from the rest of the road by medians. While the service drives are city-owned, the rest of the street is a state highway, so anything that goes there must be approved by the Illinois Department of Transportation.

Ald. Monique Scott (24th), whose ward includes most of the corridor, said that community meetings on the project were important to her. When major city projects come to West Side communities, she said, “so many of us feel like we’re not welcome to have our input” – and she wanted to avoid that.

“I want us to get good perspective, good focus and bring out your ideas,” Scott said.

Reshorna Fitzpatrick, executive pastor at North Lawndale’s landmark Stone Temple Baptist Church, who served as the workshop moderator, echoed those thoughts – while also encouraging everybody in attendance to bring more people to the next workshop.

“Someone needs to make some noise, because we need to be in the building where things are changing in our community,” she said.

Fitzpatrick touted the efforts of the Community Advisory Group, a group of stakeholders that city officials usually put together for large-scale projects. The Stone Temple Church is a CAG member organization, and she mentioned passing out informational fliers.

Paul Norrington, vice-president of North Lawndale’s K-Town Historic District Association, pointed to the fact that the corridor represents the longest portion of the Route 66 within Chicago city limits.

“We need to keep it in mind as we talk about doing something with Ogden,” he said. “Let’s keep our historical value in mind, and we do have historical value.”

Blanche Killingsworth, head of the North Lawndale Historical Society and a community resident since 1962, took the concept further, said that any improvements would need to reflect all of the community’s rich history.

Resident Norvetta Landon suggested putting overhead pedestrian crossings at major intersections, pointing to the crossings over the South Side portions of Lake Shore Drive, such as the one at 31st Street, as examples. Such bridges would also give an opportunity to put in public art, she said.

Ogden Avenue, as seen from the Lawndale Christian Health Center’s fourth floor conference room | Credit: Igor Studenkov/Staff Reporter

CDOT also got some criticism. Norvetta questioned why the project stopped at Pulaski Road and didn’t continue down to Kenneth Avenue, at the southwest tip of North Lawndale. She pointed to a complex Pulaski Road/Cermak Road/Ogden Avenue intersection, among other traffic issues. Irizarry responded that the city was doing a separate study on the intersection.

Resident Carmen Dennis wasn’t convinced, questioning whether the project parameters reflected the city’s priorities.

“I think this is taking place in the area of North Lawndale where the gentrification was a bit more apparent,” she said. “Why is it not starting where there’s less gentrification?”

Landon also questioned how much outreach the CAG and CDOT did.

“We’ didn’t get any flyers, and I’m just saying, for the neighbors living in this area [west of Pulaski] we’re just finding out about this from the [August 2023] meeting, I’m just saying with some of the decisions, going back to who put together [the CAG] – I don’t feel like all of us really had an input.”

Fitzpatrick responded that any individual or organization can join the CAG and invited anyone interested to talk to her after the meeting.

Owen Pittman asked whether there would be job opportunities under the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Section 3 program, which requires anyone that receives HUD funding to provide job training and job opportunities for low-income individuals, including those who benefit from public housing and housing choice voucher programs, and contracting opportunities for businesses that hire low-income residents.

Irizarry said that while it’s too early to talk about those opportunities, CDOT would encourage businesses that might fall under Section 3 to reach out to them, so the department could include them in the contractor pool.

North Lawndale community activist Princess Shaw asked whether the project timeline could be slowed down if the residents ask for more time to develop a vision. Fitzpatrick responded that with construction not expected to start until 2026, she doesn’t believe it would become an issue.

“We’ll be fine with this schedule, and if we need to make adjustments, we’ll make the adjustments,” she said.

Igor Studenkov is a winner of multiple Illinois Press Association awards for local government and business reporting. He has been contributing to Austin Weekly News since 2015. His work has also appeared...