Aug 162017
 

At the August GSLA Neighbors’ Night Out, about 35 people joined in conversation about our local parks and recreational opportunities in the South Loop. The event was held at the Weather Mark Tavern.

Two Chicago Park District managers joined the event to give updates and field questions about our local parks: Brandon Cotton representing Ping Tom Park, and Talonna Sharp representing Chicago Women’s Park & Garden.

Among the many topics discussed, were the following highlights from each of the park representatives:

Also at the event, participants learned about the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Shared Air/Shared Action community empowerment through low-cost air pollution monitoring program. Laura Zamboni and Cathi Ortiz spoke about this effort which the Alliance for a Greener South Loop is participating in, and they welcome additional volunteers from the community to get involved! Neighbors are helping monitor air quality in Chicago neighborhoods: Little Village, East Side and Riverdale. Learn more or contact the Alliance for a Greener South Loop to get involved here.

What do our neighbors think about local parks?

Below is a summary of written feedback collected from attendees via a questionnaire we distributed at the event:

Top things about Ping Tom Park

  • Another Park District Park close by
  • Prairie area
  • Waterfront
  • Gazebo
  • Water taxi
  • Views of skyline

Future amenities, programming or other improvements people want at Ping Tom Park

  • kids kayaking lessons
  • canoes
  • more 18+ classes
  • public restrooms year round

Top things about Chicago Women’s Park & Gardens

  • Teachers, programs
  • Flowers, beautiful
  • History
  • Beer & cider fest

Future amenities, programming or other improvements people want at Women’s Park

  • Zumba, yoga/pilates in the park
  • Hindi classes
  • Community clean-up program for the park/neighborhood area
  • More adult centered movies

Other parks in the South Loop people most often visit

  • Mark Twain
  • Cottontail
  • (new) Prairie District Park
  • Fred Anderson
Aug 162017
 

If you and your South Loop neighbors and friends want to get back outdoors before the
summer comes to an end, join in the 12 th Street Beach clean-up event on Wednesday, August
23!

Join us for a Great Lakes Action Day with Aurelio’s Pizza to help clean up and care for the
natural areas at 12th Street Beach. Just bring yourself and a water bottle, and come for as little
or as long as you’d like!

When: Wednesday, August 23, 11:30 am to 1:30 pm

Where: 12th Street Beach south of the concession stand

What: Special Aurelio’s Pizza beach clean-up and habitat restoration workday open to South
Loop community members. Pizza will be provided!

How do I sign up?

Email greatlakesactiondays@sheddaquarium.org or call 312.692.3330 to register by Monday,
August 21.

 

Aug 112017
 

This post summarizes the key findings of two GSLA surveys which followed the first and third community meetings held by CPS to gather feedback on a proposal to expand the South Loop Elementary School’s boundary southward to 22nd Street and close the National Teacher’s Academy elementary school (NTA) to repurpose it to serve as a 1,000 student high school which would be available to students residing in the South Loop, Chinatown, Armour Square, Bridgeport, and north Bronzeville areas.

The purpose of the first survey was to gauge the community’s sentiment regarding key themes raised during the June 6 meeting held by CPS, where the proposal was officially presented to the community for the first time.  The purpose of the second survey was to gather feedback on the version of the plan presented at the July 10 meeting, which has evolved from the one originally presented on June 6.

Who responded?

We received a total of 217 responses across both surveys (n=162 and 55, respectively), which were configured to not allow multiple submissions from the same IP address in order to limit the ability of individuals to submit multiple responses.  We estimate that the surveys reached over 4,000 people.

We asked each respondent to identify with a stakeholder audience: parent of a student at SLES, parent of a student at NTA, parent from greater Chinatown area, community member who plans to send a child to public school in the future, or community member who does not have plans to send a child to public school.

The distribution of respondents across these stakeholder audiences was similar for both surveys; approximately 40% from NTA, 20% from SLES, 30% from community members who plan to send kids to public school in the future, and 10% from other stakeholder groups.

What was the response to the first survey?

The main themes raised during the first meeting were:

  • Requests to see other alternatives presented by CPS
  • Concern regarding the lack of community/stakeholder inclusion and lack of transparency by CPS in the development of the proposed plan
  • Concern regarding the disruption and displacement of NTA students, the majority of whom are low-income and are thriving in their current school

The survey was designed to capture sentiment regarding these 3 areas, and results and key themes are outlined below.

Alternative Plans and Capacity Concerns:

  • 83% Agree or strongly agree that CPS should share alternative plans for providing quality Pre-K-12 public education options in our community. 9% disagree or strongly disagree.
  • 86% Agree or strongly agree that CPS should provide 5-year projections of the populations of South Loop Elementary and National Teachers Academy (current boundaries of both schools). 4% disagree or strongly disagree.
  • 87% Agree or strongly agree that CPS should provide 5-year projections of the number of anticipated graduating 8th graders from each of the elementary schools in the South Loop, Chinatown, Bridgeport, and Armour Square neighborhoods.  5% disagree or strongly disagree.
  • 30% responded that based on what they know of this issue, they are confident that the current plan proposed by CPS will result in better outcomes for all students involved, vs. 66% who did not feel confident that the plan will result in better outcomes.

Transparency:

  • 18% of respondents indicated that they believe CPS is engaging in a fair and transparent process vs. 74% who do not believe the process has been fair and transparent.

Concern regarding disruption/displacement of NTA students:

  • An overwhelming theme in the comments was concern for NTA students and staff. Many comments indicated that while a more closely-located high school would be very valuable for the area, it should not come at the expense of NTA students, including those who live outside of boundary and attend NTA as legacy Ickes Homes residents or as part of the lottery-based Options for Knowledge program.

Outcomes of the First Survey:

Based on the initial survey results,  the GSLA raised questions and concerns regarding these areas to CPS via meetings with the CPS Family and Community Engagement office and at the Board of Education meeting held on June 28, in an effort to ensure that the final solution represents the best interests of our community now and into the future:

Alternative Plans and Capacity Concerns:

Will this plan provide adequate capacity at either the elementary or the high school levels to serve the aggressive growth planned for our neighborhood?

Over 4100 new residential units are planned to be constructed within the proposed new boundary area within the next 5 years, which will surely cause the number of elementary-aged children to increase.  SLES and NTA are currently enrolling a combined total of 6 kindergarten classes per year; the capacity of the new combined SLES will be 7 classes.  CPS demographers advised us that this plan is based on growth projections of 3-5%, which we do not believe to be adequate.

At the high school level, CPS shared at the July 10 meeting that the boundary/feeder schools for the proposed high school will not be announced until the fall of 2018, however if just 45% of students from the neighborhood schools located within 1 mile of NTA choose to attend the proposed high school it will exceed its 1000 student capacity.

Transparency:

Why wasn’t a process initiated to openly engage key community stakeholder groups for input before presenting this plan?

The lack of involvement and communication with impacted stakeholder groups prior to presenting a single plan to the community (which includes closing one school and moving its students to another school community) was disappointing.  In contrast, the recently approved Ogden-Jenner school merger was handled in a different manner.  In the Ogden-Jenner situation, the administrations of the respective schools recognized a challenge that they could work together to solve, and it still took over 18 months from when the principals from both schools approached CPS to request the merger until CPS approved it this February (2017).  An independent consultant was retained to engage all stakeholder groups and a lengthy report was published to justify the recommendation to merge the schools.  Much was learned during the process, which was hailed by CPS as the “blueprint” for situations like this in the future.  We have asked why this process was not applied to our neighborhood’s situation.

Concern regarding disruption/displacement of NTA students:

What will happen to students at NTA, and what steps will be taken to ensure minimal disruption to students and their families?  How will students be distributed across the multi-building SLES campus, and how will this impact families from both South Loop Elementary and NTA?

Per the updated plans shared by CPS at the June 20 and July 10 meetings, if the proposed plan moves forward, ALL students attending NTA will have the opportunity to attend South Loop Elementary when the new 3rd building opens in 2019 and NTA students in upper grades may have the opportunity to finish their elementary years at NTA and continue matriculating through the high school.  The GSLA finds this to be encouraging and appreciates CPS being responsive to the concerns of the community on this point.  We also understand that there are many remaining concerns to be resolved and look forward to CPS sharing more details regarding how the human impacts of this plan will be handled to ensure an equitable and positive experience for all involved.

What was the response to the second survey?

The second survey was made available after the 3rd community meeting, in order to gather feedback on the most current version of the plan.  A summary of meetings 2 and 3 may be found here.   A summary of the second survey is  below.

Is this plan aligned with our neighborhood’s priorities?

  • Respondents’ top Priorities for Education in the South Loop (respondents were asked to select up to 3):
Priority Response (%)
Provide high quality education for all students, regardless of race, income, or address 70.91%
Establish a plan for meeting education needs that accounts for projected population growth in the South Loop 58.18%
Maintain National Teacher’s Academy as is 52.73%
Creation of a neighborhood high school that serves the South Loop 30.91%
Creation of a high school that serves the South Loop, and also provides surrounding neighborhoods with a high school option 25.45%
Improve student performance, regardless of school 21.82%
Increase capacity at South Loop Elementary 20.00%
Increase overall elementary and middle school capacity in the South Loop 9.09%
Minimize usage of public funding (e.g. TIF funds. tax dollars, etc.) 3.64%

 

  • When asked for an overall opinion of the proposal, based on their priorities for education in the South Loop, 29% of respondents indicated that the proposal is “good” or “very good”, while 58% felt that it is “poor” or “terrible”.

Human Factors:

  • 32% of respondents agree or strongly agree that CPS has sufficiently articulated how the needs of low-income, minority students will be served through this proposal. 60% disagree or strongly disagree.

Planning for the Future:

  • 29% agree or strongly agree that CPS has sufficiently articulated how this proposal will serve the needs of the South Loop for the next 5-10 years, 64% disagree or strongly disagree.
  • When asked how likely it is that they and their family will stay in the neighborhood if this plan moves forward, 22% selected “Much more likely”, 36% selected “Much less likely”, and 25% selected “no more or less likely”.

Qualitative feedback:

The qualitative feedback provided was largely representative of the comments and feedback already shared at the community meetings.  The most prevalent concern shared was whether the plan accounts for our neighborhood’s growth and ensures against future overcrowding.

Some comments did, however, reflect a few inaccuracies or “myths” which seem to be rather prevalent and which we feel are worthwhile to attempt to clarify for the broader community:

Myth #1: Out of boundary families should “move within the school boundaries and pay their tax share, as we do [here in the South Loop]”.

Clarification: Aside from TIF districts, which only cover specific areas in the city for specific periods of time and for specific types of project investments, tax dollars paid by residents do not go directly to the zoned neighborhood school in the taxpayer’s area.  Tax dollars for education are centralized for use throughout the district and allocated to schools per pupil, based on the number of students attending the school as of the 20th day of the school year.  Thus, the taxes paid by parents who live in the SLES or NTA boundary do not go directly to either school, and parents of students living outside the attendance boundary and attending either school paid just as many tax dollars toward the school (proportionately) as parents residing within the school boundaries.

Myth #2:  There were several negative comments regarding the percentage of students attending NTA who do not live within the attendance boundaries, suggesting that this is somehow “bad” or “stealing resources” from our neighborhood.

Clarification:  It’s worth spending some time considering the “business model” of public schools in CPS and how and why schools enroll students from outside of their boundaries.  As noted in Myth #1 above, funding for each individual school is based on the number of students attending as of the 20th day of school, not the amount of taxes paid by the parents within the school’s boundary.  As a result, it’s in the best interest of each principal to ensure that as many available seats as possible are filled at their school because the costs are largely fixed and the only way to maximize funding (income) is to maximize the number of students in the building.  This is why schools jockey for specialized programming to make their schools attractive, and this is why schools, including both NTA and SLES, continue to accept students via the Options for Knowledge program to try to “round out” enrollment numbers at each grade level to roughly 28-30 students per classroom.  Unused seats are the equivalent of lost revenue.

Myth #3:  There is a lot of expansion potential at NTA due to the surrounding vacant land.

Clarification:  The currently vacant land to the east of NTA from Cermak to highway 55 will be redeveloped into nearly 1,000 new mixed-income housing units and a retail center.  Work may begin as early as later this year, and former Harold Ickes Homes residents have first right of return to the affordable units.  This May 11 article from Curbed Chicago includes a rendering of the proposed new development, alongside the existing NTA and park district buildings, the Jones HS field, and Park 540 (where the baseball field is located).  There is some space on the existing NTA parcel to expand into the front yard or to build on top of either the staff or park district parking lots in the rear.

What’s next?

The GSLA recognizes that this topic is incredibly important to the future of our neighborhood, and will continue to be focused on doing what we can to ensure that any proposal related to education in the South Loop considers continued population growth, contributes positively to our standing as a neighborhood of choice, and reflects the values of our neighborhood.  As additional information becomes available, we will continue to ask for community feedback and share that feedback on behalf of the community.

If you have questions or opinions to share with CPS, email transitions@cps.edu

If you have questions or opinions to share with the GSLA, email info@greatersouthloop.org

About the GSLA

The Greater South Loop Association (GSLA) is a 501c3 non-profit organization founded in 1998.  Our mission is to bring neighbors together to maintain and improve the South Loop as a vibrant, diverse, and inclusive community.

Aug 062017
 

Courtesy of Perkins+Will. Rendering of Ancora

Approximately 65 neighbors attended the GSLA’s July Neighbors’ Night Out to meet representatives from the Riverline development team, CMK and Perkins + Will, and to get a close-up look at the current construction progress.  The event was held at Sociale (800 S Clark St).

The development team brought printed materials for attendees to review that included the history of the site and plans and renderings for the future.  Small groups of attendees were escorted on a walking tour to view the construction progress of the first building, known as Ancora, which will soar 28 stories and contain 420 apartment units, including some 2-story townhomes.  The Ancora building is located to the north of River City and will be completed in approximately 12 months.

Permits are in process for the second building, an 18-story high rise located South of River City called Current, which will bring 251 condo units to the neighborhood.   Completion targets cannot be released until permitting has been secured.

From a vantage point on the north side of River City’s public walkway, key site features were described, including features of the Ancora building itself and of the park space which will serve as a key feature of the development.  The 14-acre site is planned to have approximately 4 acres of green space throughout.  The park and river walk on the site should be complete in about 3 years, with a focus on completing the park sooner if possible.  The development team is also hoping to get a water taxi stop somewhere along the tract.

The river walk, and how it will connect the site through the existing River City development, was a topic of particular interest.  The current plan will direct pedestrians along the outer walkways around the curve of River City or straight through the middle via a publicly available walkway.

The Ancora building site is highlighted in orange, and Current site is highlighted in dark red. The red and blue dotted lines represent the pedestrian traffic path to connect the site and the future river walk.  Courtesy Perkins+Will. 

Several attendees noted that the “walking tour” aspect of this NNO was interesting, and it was informative to get an up-close look at the site and talk with the development team.

Below is a summary of written feedback collected from attendees via a questionnaire we distributed at the event:

Top aspirations for future development (in order of most frequently mentioned):

Rendering of completed Riverline development, to the north and south of River City. Courtesy Perkins+Will.

Connections between South Loop and nearby neighborhoods

Open to the public for enjoyment – not private

Restaurants with a fun and eclectic feel, not too “stuffy”

Green space

A really good coffee shop!

Pedestrian access to the loop

Most desired riverfront amenities desired at the site:

River walk

Original River City 2 site plan, as envisioned by architect Bertrand Goldberg.

Locally-owned shops & restaurants

River/outdoor recreation spots

Pet-friendly amenities

Water-based activities

Walking/running path

Kayak storage/launch

Canoe rental

Water taxi with direct downtown access

Top responses to look and feel of the site 20 years from now:

It doesn’t make the neighborhood feel too congested

An area where all types of residents can interact

Not too touristy, green space for recreational use

Continuous river walk that has the look and feel of the area

Accessibility (seniors, disabled access, strollers)

Most important aspects/considerations for the site:

River access

Pet-friendly

Small businesses

Pedestrian-friendly

 

You can learn more about the Riverline development via their website.

About the GSLA:

The Greater South Loop Association (GSLA) is a 501c3 non-profit organization founded in 1998.  Our mission is to bring neighbors together to maintain and improve the South Loop as a vibrant, diverse, and inclusive community.

About Neighbors’ Night Out:

The GSLA’s Neighbors’ Night Out is a monthly series of informal gatherings at local restaurants/bars where neighbors may gather to meet and discuss topics relevant to our neighborhood.  The topics change from month to month based on feedback from our annual State of the South Loop survey and other current events that impact the South Loop.

Jul 312017
 

August is nearly upon us, and that means the Bud Billiken Parade is right around the corner.  Have you heard of this annual event and wondered what it celebrates?

Our friends at the Chicago Defender Charities made us aware of their annual gala, A Night in Bronzeville, which is coming up this Thursday, August 3.  The event raises funds for their scholarship program and will be held at the former home of the Chicago Defender Newspaper at 2400 S Michigan, which was just renovated by Revel Space as an event venue.

In addition to being a cool opportunity to see the newly renovated space in action, this event presents a timely opportunity to share some history of the Chicago Defender newspaper, the origin of “Bud Billiken”, and the Chicago Defender Charities organization that continues to keep the Bud Billiken tradition strong.

Couldn’t have said it better ourselves…..

The Chicago Defender Charities website includes a very informative summary of the history of the “Bud Billiken” name, and the origin and purpose of the annual Bud Billiken® parade, which is coming up on August 12 in Bronzeville.  The below excerpt is from the “history” page on their website, which we think provides an excellent summary for those unfamiliar:

HISTORY OF THE CHICAGO DEFENDER CHARITIES

BUD BILLIKEN® PARADE

     “The Bud Billiken® Parade was founded by Robert Sengstacke Abbott on August 11, 1929.  Today, the 88 year tradition is the second largest parade in the United States next to the Rose Bowl.  Abbott’s mission for the betterment of Chicago’s youth, education, and to sound the clarion call for “Back to School” for our youth continues through the leadership of his great-grandniece and Chicago Defender Charities, President, Myiti Sengstacke-Rice.

 “The Bud Billiken® parade is unique in that it is both historic and filled with the currency of youthful enthusiasm. The parade has inspired generations nationwide and continues to uplift our community. We are so grateful for the opportunity to preserve such a rich history and gladly accept the challenge to develop relevant and purposeful services for the future,” says Rice.

The Chicago Defender Charities produces the Bud Billiken parade and was founded in 1945 by Rice’s grandfather, the late John H.H. Sengstacke. Nephew and successor of Mr. Abbott, Sengstacke was also owner and publisher of the Chicago Defender newspaper from 1940 until his passing in 1997.

In 1921, Mr. Abbott launched Bud Billiken Jr., a section for children in the newspaper.  The section was named after the Billiken, touted to be a Chinese mythical character. Legend has it that the Billiken is the guardian angel of children around the world. Mr. Abbott’s famed editor, David Kellum was a key member of the Bud Billiken® team and was often called Mr. Bud Billiken® for many years. He had the idea for a ‘Bud Billiken Day’ with the mission to “give underprivileged children who are never seen or heard a chance to be in the limelight for one day by wearing costumes marching in the parade and being seen,” said Kellum in the biography about Mr. Abbott entitled The Lonely Warrior by Roi Ottley.

In 1929, Mr. Abbott expanded the Bud Billiken® concept to include a parade. The first parade began with the goal to honor the hard work and dedication of the newsboys.  Mr. Abbott then created the newsboys band which included musical greats such as Nat King Cole and Lionel Hampton. Hundreds of thousands have lined the parade route with millions viewing festivities on live television. Today, the parade features dozens of bands, drill teams, marching units, floats and more.

Many notable celebrities have appeared in the Bud Billiken® Parade throughout the years, including Senator Barack Obama, Oprah Winfrey, L.L. Cool J, Spike Lee, Michael Jordan, Frank Thomas, Donny Osmond, Queen Latifah, and Tyler Perry just to name a few.  The parade was also honored to have the presence of historic greats such as Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Nat King Cole, Lionel Hampton, Joe Louis, Muhammad Ali, James Brown, Aretha Franklin, The Supremes, Roy Rogers, Lena Horne and former President Harry S. Truman.

The parade takes place in historic Bronzeville annually on the second Saturday in August and proceeds south on Dr. Martin Luther King Drive from Oakwood Boulevard to 51st Street and continues on Ellsworth Drive through Washington Park to 55th Street where it disbands and is followed by the ‘After Parade’ activities. It is broadcast live on ABC7 Chicago with festivities and other events in the park throughout the day. The 2017 Bud Billiken® is honored to have Chance the Rapper as the Grand Marshall and the parade will begin at 10am.”

Learn more:

If you’re interested in learning more about the Chicago Defender, we found these articles to be particularly interesting:

Early history

The Defender’s role in the Great Migration (this year marks the 100-year anniversary)

Information on the 2400 S Michigan location and the Defender’s role in the integration of the US Military in the 1940’s

About the GSLA:

The Greater South Loop Association (GSLA) is a 501c3 non-profit organization founded in 1998. Our mission is to bring neighbors together to maintain and improve the South Loop as a vibrant, diverse, and inclusive community.