OLD TOWN — Developers are collecting public comments for a proposal to build a community park underneath a stretch of Brown Line tracks in Old Town.
The Old Town Merchants and Residents Association presented its plans for the park during a Wednesday community forum in which they shared five conceptual drawings for the space, located under the CTA tracks along North Orleans Street, just north of West Schiller Street.
The five designs reimagined the long, rectangular lot, which is currently fenced off from the public, as an open community space where people can walk, gather, play with their dogs or work out.
“We’re primarily focused right now on green space, which there is a need for in the Old Town area, as we have a lack of it,” said Ian Tobin, executive director of the OTMRA. “This project is one way we’re looking to remedy that.”
The project is partially funded by a private developer in the area who wanted to help the OTMRA and its sister organization, the Old Town Neighborhood Foundation, with beautifying the neighborhood. Other funding comes from a state grant that State Sen. Sara Feigenholtz helped secure, Tobin said.
Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th) said the new park would be great for kids and schools in the area, and praised the OTMRA for partnering with a local developer and “encouraging them to give some money back to the neighborhood.”
Representatives for the Lakota Group, a Chicago-based urban design firm hired for the project, pitched several ideas for how the space underneath and next to the CTA tracks could be filled, including workout stations, small dog parks, seating areas and art installations.
For those who attended the meeting, some of the most popular features were a dog park, lawn seating area and metal screens or murals to obscure the alley behind the lot.
Other ideas for the park included a small basketball court, standing art walls and various trees and planters.
Because the CTA tracks cover half of the park’s lot, all design elements have to be movable so they can be removed if work ever needs to be done on the train tracks, said Kevin Clark, principal and director of design with the Lakota Group.
The lot also features a series of beams for the CTA tracks that had to be accounted for in the park’s design, he said.
“But is there a cool opportunity there? I think so,” Clark said. “There’s nothing more ‘Chicago’ than this park. It’s got the CTA tracks, you can see the Sears Tower from a certain vantage point, and it’s got this really industry feel that I see opportunity in.”
Clark said Lakota Group is still seeking public feedback on the designs before coming up with a final concept for the park. People can find more information on the project on Lakota Group’s website and fill out a survey to share their thoughts.
“This is an opportunity to create a pretty cool community space in an area that’s been under-utilized for a very long time,” Clark said.
Jake Wittich is a Report for America corps member covering Lakeview, Lincoln Park and LGBTQ communities across the city for Block Club Chicago.
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