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Austin, Garfield Park, North Lawndale

Can Public Art Make A Busy West Side Street More Pedestrian-Friendly? Some Artists Think So

The art installation builds off a walkability study conducted by residents that suggested several improvements to make the area more pedestrian-friendly.

A 3D rendering of streetscape improvements at Homan Avenue and Harrison Street, one of the most dangerous intersections in North Lawndale.
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NORTH LAWNDALE — Artists are planning a public art installation near the Kedzie-Homan station on the Blue Line, part of an ongoing neighborhood effort to make the area safer and more walkable.

The installation at the Homan and Harrison intersection is being designed to improve the streetscape for pedestrians who live in the neighborhood. The project is led by SAIC Design Homan Square, a course taught by Eric Hotchkiss at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s Homan Square campus, which functions as a pro-bono design consultancy for projects in North Lawndale.

Designers are gathering feedback from residents “to help us figure out what we are designing and why we are designing what’s going to be at this intersection,” Hotchkiss said.

“It doesn’t matter what you put in the space if there’s no activation around it,” Hotchkiss said.

SAIC Design Homan Square has held community roundtables to collect ideas and input from residents. The next engagement event is planned for 2 p.m. March 26, and login details will be posted on SAIC Design Homan Square’s social media channels.

To get involved with the design of the public art installation or give feedback, visit the project’s website or email saicdesignhs2021@gmail.com for more information.

The public art installation continues efforts to improve the streetscape in the neighborhood kicked off by the WALK-H walkability assessment released in 2020. The study, conducted by residents in collaboration with SAIC Homan Square and the North Lawndale Community Coordinating Council’s transportation committee, was aimed at making key intersections in the area safer and more welcoming to pedestrians.

RELATED: How Can The West Side Be More Walkable? North Lawndale Neighbors Did A Study To Find Out

The study evaluated 22 intersections within a half mile of the Kedzie-Homan station, collecting data on the condition of streets, sidewalks, bump-outs, crosswalks, road signs and traffic lights. With the help of neighborhood youth, the Walk-H team also surveyed more than 130 CTA users and pedestrians on barriers to walkability in the neighborhood.

The report found poor pedestrian infrastructure, such as ineffective crosswalks and poor lighting, made the area difficult and unsafe to navigate on foot. The Homan and Harrison intersection lacked a painted crosswalk and had a poorly marked bump-out that cars frequently cut across while turning, according to the study.

The study also found the design of the streetscape discouraged many people from walking. Trends from the survey showed residents felt unfamiliar with the walking routes in the area, and that lack of a visual identity and curb appeal made the neighborhood less pedestrian-friendly.

“We think about walkability in terms of physically, but also emotionally. It changes the way you think about an intersection if you’re always stressed about walking past the intersection,” Hotchkiss said.

The art installation may incorporate elements such as a mural and lighting to address those issues. The designers will also consider things like signs to make walking routes more visible.

At a recent community roundtable on the art project, designers asked residents what would be needed to make the intersection safer and more walkable.

The art project should involve young people in North Lawndale, especially those who loiter around the Blue Line station, resident Audrey Dunford said. Getting young people more involved will make them feel a sense of belonging in the community and can make the area feel safer for pedestrians.

“We need people who can actually get out there and motivate them to want to do other stuff outside of just standing out there at night,” Dunford said. “A part of it, too, is that they don’t really have nothing to do.”

Residents recommended the installation incorporate lighting that will feel welcoming, a tile mosaic, green landscaping, an event space and visually appealing trash cans to reduce littering.

Community feedback will also determine the visual themes represented in the art so the installation will reflect the unique flavor, culture and history of North Lawndale. Participants suggested the mural draw on themes like Lawndale’s history of mom-and-pop shops, the historic Stone Temple Missionary Baptist Church and Martin Luther King Jr.’s visit to the neighborhood. 

“Incorporating those stories and histories into this project will help it resonate better,” said Dylan Mattox, a member of the SAIC Design Homan Square team.

The SAIC Design Homan Square team will collect feedback from residents for 10 weeks before finalizing the design of the project in May.

Pascal Sabino is a Report for America corps member covering Austin, North Lawndale and Garfield Park for Block Club Chicago.

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