LINCOLN SQUARE — Lincoln Square is one of Chicago’s most charming neighborhoods, but visitors arriving on the “L” would never guess it stepping out onto the cheerless Western Brown Line plaza.
A just-released master plan for the area would change all that, transforming the plaza — including its downright dank under-the-“L”-tracks walkway — from a place people can’t pass through quickly enough into a welcoming gathering spot.
The master plan, recently unveiled at a community open house, is the culmination of a year-long study commissioned by the neighborhood’s Special Service Area or SSA. Corridors along Lincoln, Lawrence, Western and Montrose were all incorporated into the plan’s scope.
Recommendations in the plan, once approved by the SSA, will guide future development — both residential and commercial — and infrastructure upgrades.
“It’s not just about making things look good,” said Jodi Mariano of Teska Associates, the lead consulting firm on the project.
Ultimately, Mariano noted, the plan should create a neighborhood that’s more livable for residents and more attractive to businesses and visitors. That encompasses everything from nitty gritty details such as optimizing traffic signals and installing power sources for farmers market vendors to whimsical flourishes like Instagram-friendly public art.
To gain an understanding of what residents love about Lincoln Square and where there’s room for improvement, the team assembled by Teska, which included transportation engineers and real estate experts, met with community organizations and leaders of various neighborhood institutions, and gathered feedback via a series of online polls.
“Our real goal is to ensure this is a plan for Lincoln Square, by Lincoln Square,” said Teska’s Erin Cigliano, who led the outreach efforts.
As the master plan began to take shape, the team also touched base with agencies such as the CTA and the Chicago Department of Transportation to get a sense of which ideas were doable and which were too impractical.
Among the common themes that emerged: North Lincoln Avenue (specifically the stretch between Lawrence and Foster) is sorely in need of TLC; Western Avenue creates an “East vs. West” mentality among residents; and maintaining walkability, affordability and the sense of a “small town in a big city” are high priorities.
A number of the plan’s near-term recommendations address those concerns. “Wayfinding kiosks,” for example, would be scattered throughout the neighborhood and point people to shops, restaurants and other attractions off the beaten Lincoln Square-between-the-arches path.
“They’re low cost and high impact,” Mariano said of the kiosks.
Ways to make North Lincoln Avenue, with its narrow sidewalks, more pedestrian-friendly include carving “parklets” out of parking spaces to provide outdoor seating options. In lieu of the sidewalk cafes that make “South” Lincoln Avenue so vibrant, the plan encourages developers to incorporate operable glass doors into buildings’ ground floor designs.
These building design guidelines, Mariano emphasized, don’t carry zoning or permit weight but simply communicate the community’s expectations.
Longer term projects outlined in the plan include mitigating the barrier feel of Western Avenue, perhaps through a boulevard. A little known community garden adjacent to the Lawrence/Western Walgreens could be repurposed as a dog park.
The most substantial proposals in the plan call for the total makeover of Lincoln Square’s most visible public spaces: the Western Brown Line plaza and the “Lincoln Statue” plaza (aka, the Walgreens plaza or the “pigeon” plaza). Neither currently makes a favorable impression as a community gateway, Mariano said.
Attendees at the master plan open house were each given a set of a dozen red stickers to affix to presentation boards to signal which ideas they favored. Scanning the boards, Ryan Warsing, neighborhood services director for the Lincoln Square Ravenswood Chamber of Commerce and SSA, noted the preferences seemed to be “everything.”
Those unable to attend the community meeting still have a window of opportunity to weigh in online. Comments can be submitted at yourlincolnsquare.org until June 14.