Every neighborhood needs a champion. And North Avenue, from Austin to Harlem, the Oak Park side and the Chicago side both, has its champion in The North Avenue District (T-NAD). This is a small but determined community group, neighbors from both Oak Park and Galewood, business people, who want to see a street that has been long ignored and abused get some long overdue attention.
And finally as 2018 approaches, serendipity and hard work are melding into multiple government bodies beginning to assess the many challenges this high-traffic but largely invisible thoroughfare faces.
Oak Park is about to report out a consultant's study of what development options — a TIF, a special service area — could be implemented to help fund economic development and repurposing of land on North Avenue.
A state grant, long-delayed by the budget fiascos of Springfield, has finally come through and will fund a study of how to improve transportation on this state route. This study has been pending since 2015.
Then last week, the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) announced funding of a T-NAD-sought backing of a plan focused on land uses along North Avenue.
The Local Technical Assistance grant focuses on parking, traffic, walkability and accessibility.
We're not consultants but we'd say North Avenue has:
Too much obsolete retail that will never again be effectively used. That includes both ancient storefronts and already deteriorating strip malls.
Too many small 1950s-era office buildings that will never again be filled with lawyers and doctors.
Too many community-discouraging uses such as pawn shops, payday loan stores, and massage parlors posing as prostitution.
Too little historic collaboration between the city of Chicago on the north side and Oak Park on the south side of this street. And too little intimacy between residents on the two sides of the four-lane highway.
And a mild-to-severe case of NIMBYism among residents in both Oak Park and Galewood who moved adjacent to a major commercial artery but won't accept the traffic that spills onto side streets.
There's good news if these studies prove it out, the governments find ways to work together, and neighbors agree that the worst outcome is the status quo.
This two-mile stretch will never again be wall-to-wall commercial property. There aren't major car dealers coming back, the HQ of a giant savings and loan is history, and the iconic outpost of the iconic Sears brand is toast.
It is time to embrace change. The proposal to build an 80-unit luxury apartment complex on the old St. Paul Federal site is terrific. This street, these neighborhoods need more residents to support the businesses that remain. Residential — townhomes, apartments and condos — is the essential future of North Avenue.
The massive Sears site at Harlem and North is a highly desirable corner, not ever again for a big box retailer but for some combination of retail and residential.
Judith Alexander, the engine behind T-NAD, is also rightly focused on making sure the hard work ahead stretches all the way to Austin Boulevard. The east end of North Avenue needs particular attention and investment.
Answer Book 2019
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