Ald. Arena gathers input on ward budget; community vote planned
by BRIAN NADIG
Public art, a dog park and a fountain were among the infrastructure improvements that residents recommended at a May 8 meeting on the 45th Ward participatory budget.
“Public art is a great way to define your neighborhood,” Alderman John Arena’s communications and outreach director Leslie Perkins said at the meeting, which was held at Hitch School, 5625 N. McVicker Ave. It was one five neighborhood assemblies that Arena held to gather input on how to spend the ward’s $1.32 million of discretionary funds in 2018.
Arena is one of nine aldermen who hold a community vote to determine how to spend most of their ward’s discretionary funds.
The funds are intended for long-term infrastructure improvements, such as side-street resurfacing and community gardens, Perkins said. “It has to be something you can physically touch,” she said.
The vote will be held in October, and ward residents age 14 and older are eligible to vote. “We think it’s a great way to introduce our youth to democracy,” she said.
Voting on the ward’s budget has been declining since the process started in 2013, but efforts are being made to increase participation this year, according to Arena. About 270 ward residents voted last year.
Arena said that getting residents involved in the budgeting process is so important that he plans to continue it no matter the vote total. “As long as it’s more than one, we’re doing the right thing,” he said. “The process has evolved. We’re learning how to manage it better.”
Some of the initiatives recommended at the May meeting included ballot items which did not receive enough votes in previous years. They are eligible to be on the next ballot.
Those initiatives include improvements to the pedestrian bridge over the Kennedy Expressway near Austin Avenue and the installation of sidewalk bump-outs in front of Hitch in an effort to shorten the distance of the crosswalks on Bryn Mawr Avenue.
There also were recommendations for the installation of “people spots” near the Lawrence-Austin and Milwaukee-Austin intersections. These are temporary platforms which are placed in the parking lane in front of businesses and can include seating and artwork.
Perkins said that it is not clear if discretionary funds can be used for people spots, which are removed in the winter.
A people spot for the Six Corners commercial district was approved several years ago but that the city would not allow discretionary funds to be used for the project. Another funding source was later used.
As for the fountain recommendation, a resident said that it should include the use of recycled water.
Another recommendation called for the creation of a kiss-and-ride passenger drop-off area at the Jefferson Park CTA Terminal, 4917 N. Milwaukee. A designated drop-off area was removed from the station more than 10 years ago.
Residents also discussed the need for certain side-streets, including the 5300 block of North Moody Avenue, to be resurfaced.
Perkins said that some resurfacing projects are delayed because of planned sewer and utility improvements for those blocks. “The good news is it will get resurfaced after that other capital improvement,” she said.
Recommendations for other infrastructure improvements can be e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.