City officials are working to turn Catalpa Avenue near Clark Street in to a public space. Credit: Joe Ward/Block Club Chicago

ANDERSONVILLE — The Clark Street business corridor in Andersonville succeeds in part because of its walkability and access. That is, until you reach the corner of Catalpa Avenue and Clark Street.

Catalpa is neighbored on both sides by parking lots for Walgreens and Jewel, and contains ample street parking. The car-centric nature of the road disrupts the walkability of Clark Street and makes for a “gap” between the north and south ends of Andersonville’s commercial corridor, officials said.

But city officials and local leaders are working to change that by transforming one lane of the street into a pedestrian-friendly community gathering space.

Plans call for turning Catalpa Avenue between Clark Street and Ashland Avenue into a one-lane road, officials unveiled at a community meeting Saturday. The city would repurpose the additional lane, street parking space and sidewalks into a community gathering space with room to hold neighborhood events.

“[Catalpa Avenue] breaks up the community. We have a sea of asphalt and a sea of fence,” Ald. Harry Osterman (48th) said. “We have the opportunity to add to the vibrancy of our neighborhood.”

Neighborhood leaders have long sought a way to bridge the Catalpa gap on Clark Street, but the project got renewed interest when funding for a new streetscape was included in a recent Illinois spending bill. The funds have not yet been dispersed, and it is not known how much funding for the project has already been secured.

With some funding on the horizon, Alds. Osterman and Andre Vasquez (40th) held a community meeting Saturday for residents to weigh in on what they’d like to see in the new community space. Clark Street is the dividing line between Osterman and Vasquez’s wards.

Catalpa Avenue at Clark Street has previously been improved with brick walkways, planters and benches. Credit: Google

“We should really think about the opportunity we have, because it doesn’t happen often,” Ald. Vasquez said at the meeting.

Plans for the park could include decorative pavers, new lighting, neighborhood signage, seating, play equipment and public art. At the meeting, neighbors were shown various designs from public places throughout the country and asked to place stickers near the features and designs that were most wanted in the Andersonville space.

Examples ranged from modest seating arrangements and improved pedestrian ways, and others called for vibrantly colored streetscapes and modern seating and lighting design. Included in examples of neighborhood signage was the historic-styled sign that welcomes people to Old Town on Wells Street, or the new-age neon sign that announces the arrival of Fulton Market.

Multiple neighbors suggested the new public area include as much green space as possible, since park land is at a premium in Andersonville. Others asked for dedicated bike lanes to be added to the street design proposal, while some suggested adding a permanent bus shelter to the site.

Though a lane on the one-way Catalpa Avenue would remain open to car traffic, the street could be closed for farmers markets, book fairs or performances, said Sara Dinges, executive director of the Andersonville Chamber of Commerce, which would handle programming at the space.

No matter what design features are included in the public space, the project will likely go a long way in making pedestrians safer in the area, multiple neighbors said.

“I appreciate this moving forward for the safety alone,” one neighbor said. “I’m excited about the project.”

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