LINCOLN SQUARE — For decades, the stretch of Lincoln Avenue north of Lawrence Avenue has been a fairly sleepy area in comparison to the bustling, cobblestone neighborhood center just southeast.
Neighbors have complained about long-vacant buildings, the area’s former alderman called it an urban design “failure” and in 2015, one of the stretch’s most popular entertainment options burned to the ground.
Now, Ald. Andre Vasquez (40th) is looking to turn the north side of Lincoln Avenue into a neighborhood art district, complete with murals and housing for artists to bring vibrancy — and hopefully, commercial and community interest — to the area.
“It’s kind of stuck in time when you look at that area right now,” Ald. Vasquez said. “Being an artist before I became alderman, that made me think of how I could change the dynamic over here by using art.”
During a state of the neighborhood event last weekend, Vasquez mentioned the plan to residents, and later elaborated with Block Club on his vision for what his office is tentatively calling the Lincoln Avenue North Arts, or LANA district.
“Right now I’m kind of putting it out into the ether. So that way, as we start figuring out what resources we have to create something like an arts district, neighbors get to know what’s potentially coming,” Vasquez said.
In the coming months, he wants to host community meetings to gather feedback from neighbors on what the arts district could look like in order to refine the idea.
Vasquez has also reached out to Maurice Cox, Commissioner of the Department of Planning and Development, asking him to visit his ward and discuss what kind of resources the city has for things like public art and artist housing.
“And being the vice-chair of the committee on special events, cultural affairs and recreation doesn’t hurt either,” Vasquez said.
The Chicago Printmakers Collaborative, 4912 N. Western Ave., and Eat Paint Studio, 5036 N. Lincoln Ave., are already within the proposed arts district as are a number of restaurants.
“When he was first elected he did stop by our shop to say he had a plan to better connect Lincoln Avenue,” said Amanda King, owner of Tattoo Avenue, 5122 N. Lincoln Ave. “I really hope he follows through because over by our shop, we’re kind of on the side of Lincoln Avenue with less foot traffic.”
It’s a stark contrast to Lincoln Avenue a little further south, where people come to window shop, eat, drink or see a show.
“It’s not a strip of Lincoln Avenue where you see people just kind of of browse around and hang out,” she said.
Vasquez envisions north Lincoln Avenue having the sort of events you can currently catch south on Lincoln — which include live music performances and farmers markets.
“Once this district is fully developed I want it to be something where you’d to see mural art from miles away. A place where people from across the city would come and check out as a destination,” Vasquez said. “So I see more public art and, potentially, some kind of live performance area where you could host market and festival events.”
Vasquez also wants to better connect the northern part of Lincoln Avenue across Western and Lawrence Avenue with the commercial corridor to the south, something the Lincoln Square Ravenswood Chamber of Commerce has been thinking about for awhile.
“Lincoln Avenue north of Lawrence doesn’t have a strong identity yet,” said Rudy Flores, executive director of the chamber.
To address this, he said the chamber has already been trying to add some color to the area to better connect it with the southern half of Lincoln Avenue using art.
Last year, they turned old-school parking meters into brightly-painted Abe Lincoln portraits.
Just north on the corner of Lincoln and Argyle, a mural called “The Announcement” by Jason Watts brightens up the intersection.
“So we’ve been making steps to enliven that part of Lincoln Avenue, and that’s even before we knew this was also an idea Ald. Vasquez wanted to pursue,” Flores said.
The alderman is also looking to make Western Avenue near Lawrence and Lincoln avenues safer for pedestrians and cyclists, a notorious intersection in the neighborhood.
Data from the Illinois Department of Transportation shows that intersection has a high rate of car crashes involving pedestrians and cyclists and can be intimidating for people to cross.
“I’m going to reach out to the McDonalds and T-Mobile there, because I think they can help make the area more visually appealing and create a better flow of traffic through the streetscaping recommended in the master plan,” Vasquez said.
As for housing, one thing Vasquez wants to address head on is affordability. He aims to have the new arts district bring more economic growth in the area, but said he wants to do that in a way that doesn’t spur displacement and gentrification.
“I’m looking at how to address that legislatively. We want everyone to benefit from this,” he said.
The city doesn’t have a way to officially designate an area an arts district, he said. So Vasquez sees this as an opportunity to design legislation where, if an area wants that designation, then affordable housing must be a component.
“But we still need to figure out what kind of resources the city has for more public art, live-in work spaces and even artist incubators,” he said.
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