The University of Chicago, Ald. Willie Cochran (20th) and the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) hosted the first of a series of meetings regarding the 61st Street Streetscape Master Plan project, on Monday, April 2, at the Reva and Donald Logan Center for the Arts, 915 E. 60th St.
Residents were invited to help develop a plan for the improvement and enhancement of the public infrastructure on 61st Street between Cottage Grove and Blackstone avenues, an area where a number of major development projects are planned. Cochran stated he was very excited about the process.
“This is one of the processes that has been instrumental, [in] gathering residents together asking them for their input on how they want their community to look,” Cochran said. “We started this process in a “Quality of Life Program” many years ago. It was a roadmap for [us].”
Cochran said without the launch of the “Quality Life Program” years ago, there will be no 61st Street Streetscape Master Plan project. Cochran said that the program was a roadmap for himself and that it helped pave the way for the new 61st Street Corridor, which includes housing, quality housing, affordable housing, moderate rate housing, upscale housing, new schools, and a new Jewel Osco (scheduled to open in late 2018), which will be built on the corner of 61st Street and Cottage Grove Avenue.
“Now we are trying to make a welcoming community, and trying to bring in more income so that retailers will be more attracted to the area,” Cochran said. “This is a process and we are getting there quickly and the quicker we get there the more we need to get through this type of planning.”
Cochran believes that the improvements will not only help the community aesthetically but improve street traffic during the construction of the Obama Presidential Center.
In addition to Cochran’s comments from the kick-off meeting, CDOT delivered a Community Context Workshop for residents and listened to their input and ideas on how to help the direction of CDOT’s goals, objectives, and priorities of the project.
Residents were divided into four small groups during the presentation and developed a brainstorming session where they pitched ideas of a list of three improvements they would like to see on the 61st Street corridor.
In spite of strong feedback from the group, most residents were concerned about pedestrian safety, bike lanes/parking, and more greenery and lighting in the neighborhood.
The group also discussed the difference between roadway lighting and pedestrian sidewalk lighting and the possibility of 61st Street being a shortcut for cars during Obama Presidential Center construction.
“[We need a] more symmetrical design to fix this hostile design,” said University of Chicago freshman Jalen Jiang as he discussed the interface between the University of Chicago buildings and properties on the north side of East 61st Street.
According to the city’s website, the project is the latest in a series of developments that are injecting new life into the residential neighborhood, including the Trianon Lofts mixed-income housing project, the Metrosquash recreational complex, and the Burnham senior housing project.