The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) is working with the Avondale community to create a unified vision and plan for maintaining affordability, diversity, and quality of life in the neighborhood.
Avondale, a northwest Chicago neighborhood, has historically been a working-class Polish community that has seen a growth in Latinx residents. Today, Spanish speakers make up 47 percent of the population, while Polish and other Slavic language speakers make up under 5 percent.
In the last several years, Avondale residents have seen gentrification in surrounding neighborhoods like Logan Square and are unsure of what that means for the future of their community.
This month, CMAP kicked off a project with the Avondale Neighborhood Association and residents to understand the needs of the neighborhood and develop a community plan through the Local Technical Assistance program.
“Right now when you talk to people, they’ll each have a wish list for the community,” said Enrique Castillo, an associate planner at CMAP who manages the project.
For example, Elizabeth Muscare, a lifelong Avondale resident and president of the neighborhood association, wishes her community had a library. Melissa Toops, zoning chair of the association, bikes to work and wants the neighborhood to be safer for cyclists.
After hearing from the residents, evaluating the existing conditions of the neighborhood, and analyzing various sources of data, community members decide what to prioritize and develop a vision for the future.
Melissa said that creating a unified vision is especially important for Avondale because the community falls in four different wards. With a neighborhood plan, Avondale will be in a better position to build the community that residents want.
“Right now, as a community group, we’re reacting to what developers bring to us. By being reactionary, instead of proactive, we’re not identifying what the true community needs are,” Melissa said.
While the Avondale Neighborhood Association has extensive knowledge of the neighborhood and has members who work in planning and planning adjacent fields, they are looking to CMAP for help with outreach and engagements with residents.
Enrique said it’s important to focus on populations that don't typically attend engagement events and meet them on their time and in a language they understand. Enrique is a Spanish speaker, and there is a Polish speaker on the team. There are also opportunities for residents interested in translating documents or interpreting at events to get involved.
Many residents are enthusiastic about developing a neighborhood plan. Over 40 people applied for the 12 seats on the steering community. The Avondale Neighborhood Association chose applicants that represent as diverse of interests as possible. Community members with an interest in this work still have many ways to get involved throughout the two-year process.
CMAP is also providing technical assistance in the community in other ways. The recently launched Logan Square Blue Line Action Plan project, with Elevated Chicago, will develop an action plan for equitable transit-oriented development at the Logan Square Blue Line station, which serves Avondale residents. The plan will develop collaborative, community-led solutions to prevent further displacement and preserve the area’s long-established culture. The Logan Square Blue Line Action Plan and the Avondale Neighborhood Plan will build off each other.