N. Lawndale plan coming into form

Plan coordinators say it could be done by 2018, hopeful city will approve

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By Igor Studenkov

Contributing Reporter

In 2015, the North Lawndale Community Coordinating Council announced the launch of a comprehensive plan for North Lawndale. Two years later, the plan is about halfway finished, with NLCCC executive members hoping to complete the plan by 2018. Once it's completed, the plan will go before the City of Chicago for possible adoption.

Dennis Deer, a member of NLCCC's executive committee, said he's optimistic that the City Council will adopt the plan, which he said has the full support of Ald. Michael Scot (24th) — whose ward covers most of North Lawndale.

NLCCC was organized in May 2015 and first publicly announced the comprehensive plan process in September 2015. The group said that this plan, unlike conventional comprehensive plans, is unique because it is being developed by actual residents and stakeholders from the ground-up — not by policy experts and politicians from the top-down.

Since its founding, the NLCCC has hosted a planning conference for residents, business owners and other community stakeholders to review the plan's progress and to provide input. On June 3, NLCCC hosted its second annual conference at DRW College Prep, 931 S. Homan Ave. in North Lawndale.

At Last Saturday's event, NLCCC members touted a range of community projects and events that they've launched and laid out some of the recommendations that could make their way into the final comprehensive plan.

Sheila McNary, a member of NLCCC's executive committee and head of its art and culture sub-committee, touted the numerous community events — such as a creative careers summit, the North Lawndale Art and Culture Festival and a housing fair — that the organization developed. She also said that NLCC has worked with the Local Initiates Support Corporation to distribute $30,000 worth of grants to different North Lawndale organizations.

Not long after the group formally announced the planning process, NLCCC successfully applied for a grant to receive technical assistance from the Chicago Metropolitan Agency of Panning. Based on a recommendation from CMAP, the group's numerous sub-committees focused on a variety of areas where potential short-term improvements could be made.

In addition, a CMAP report distributed to conference attendees referenced strategies for addressing the issues uncovered in the process.

In the area of transportation, the report called for improving Ogden Avenue, expanding Blue Line service, improving bus shelters, conducting more education and outreach, encouraging biking and creating a neighborhood-wide free Wi-Fi network.

Among housing recommendations, the report calls for working with local lenders to offer programs to help first-time homebuyers, setting up grants and loans to improve the existing housing stock and setting up ways to give the community a greater voice in the neighborhood's housing development.

In the area of public safety, the report recommended improving building code enforcement, building awareness about North Lawndale Restorative Justice Hub, partnering with the Chicago Police Department to improve community relations and implementing restorative justice practices for the young people, improving housing options for ex-offenders, and mitigating crime through environmental design initiatives.

For youth education and recreation, the CMAP report suggested identifying community organization that could do more to help young people get GEDs, expanding outreach to high school students to get a better sense of the major issues they face, and coordinating with local businesses and employment organizations to improve job opportunities for the young people.

In the areas of health and wellness, the CMAP suggested bringing more grocery stores into North Lawndale, enacting policies that limit fast food restaurants and convenience stores, leveraging community gardens to increase access to healthy foods and figuring out ways to build on existing recreational opportunities.

The CMAP report also made numerous recommendations in the areas of economic and workforce development, such as creating more tax incentives to hire local residents, creating incentives to attract businesses to North Lawndale, installing more transit-orientated development around the Blue and Pink line 'L' stations, and partnering with area organizations to help neighborhood residents access manufacturing jobs in the area.

The attendances were then asked to take part in one of seven "breakout" groups that corresponded to topic areas in the report. In each group, members were asked to propose ideas and strategies for improving the community, and they then collectively voted for top three or four ideas that they felt were most promising.

During break-out sessions, community members offered their own expertise and insight for NLCCC to incorporate into the comprehensive plan.

Brenda Palms Barber, head of the North Lawndale Employment Network and NLCCC's workforce development sub-committee chair, said that although manufacturing is a major source of income in North Lawndale, the community's future is in the fields of medicine, transportation and logistics.

Barber added that the community's proximity to Eisenhower Expressway, as well as the fact that it has extensive freight railroad infrastructure, are major assets. Barber said that more should be done to simply secure more good-paying union jobs for residents.

Rodney Brown, who chairs the NLCC Economic Development sub-committee, said that unless there is a PR campaign to improve the neighborhood's image, North Lawndale will always have trouble attracting businesses.

Among the many ideas that were tossed out, the four that received the most votes from those in attendance were the ideas to enhance job-training in the medical field, to create a Bloomingdales Trail-style greenway connecting Douglas Park to other major West Side park, to increase awareness of existing resources for businesses and to make the neighborhood a tourism destination.

Contact:
Email: igorst3@hotmail.com

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