NORTH LAWNDALE — A Bloomingdale Trail-style elevated greenway could replace a mostly unused railroad that passes through North Lawndale, pending an ongoing study to determine if the project is feasible.
The city’s planning department is hosting a series of community meetings to gather feedback on the 606-style plan and determine residents’ priorities for what they want out of the landscaped trail. Early feedback from residents shows people want the trail to highlight the neighborhood’s cultural history and bring an array of art and creative programs to the area, planners said.
Tentatively called the Lawndale Line or the Altenheim Line, the trail would be built on the Altenheim railroad corridor that runs between Fillmore Street and Taylor Street from California to Kostner Avenue.
A virtual meeting on the project is being held 5-7 p.m. Thursday. Residents can register to attend the meeting here.
The initial planning effort has two main focuses: determining the design and program offerings of the trail itself and figuring out what kinds of private investment the trail should encourage in the surrounding area.
The railway that would be transformed into the Lawndale Line trail is 2 miles long and significantly wider than the 606 Bloomingdale trail. The size of the railway presents plenty of opportunities to build amenities that go beyond a simple pedestrian and bike trail, said Brian Hacker, a city planner leading the project.
The trail could have gardens, a forested section, public art and facilities dedicated to athletic and recreation activities, Hacker said, depending on what residents ask for.
“The opportunities are many because we’re working with 2 miles of elevated trail. We can do a lot of things with it,” Hacker said.
Planners worked with landscape architects from Hood Design Studio to envision ways to incorporate resident feedback from a previous community meeting into the plans. Designers identified three main things residents said they wanted the path to include: art, ecology and representations of Lawndale’s heritage, said Paul Peter, principle at Hood Design Studio.
Entryways where visitors get onto the trail could have gateways that share cultural or historical images and information about the Lawndale community, Peters said.
“Where you enter, we can use the gateways to tell stories, to tell the history of the place,” Peters said.
Sections of the trail could host art installations, performances or programs for music, theatre, film screenings, sculptures, spoken word poetry and rap, Peters said.
Landscaping on the greenway can also “strengthen and improve the biodiversity” in the neighborhood, Peters said, which was another priority residents expressed.
Much of North Lawndale has been historically disinvested, including the area around the Altenheim railroad where the trail would be built. As a result, there are countless vacant lots in the area.
Since a bulk of those lots are owned by the city, the planning department would be able to guide any investment in the area spurred by the Lawndale Line so those investments would serve the needs of legacy residents, Hacker said.
“When the city is investing in public infrastructure, it’s going to drive private development, equitable private development as well,” Hacker said.
Gentrification was a serious consequence of the 606’s Bloomingdale Trail, so preventing displacement is a major concern among residents, Hacker said. Strategies to prevent displacement can be built in to the Lawndale Line plans, and the city can promote investments in the area that can maintain affordability, he said.
“Anti-displacement strategies will definitely be a part of this plan, and we want to make sure that it’s responsive to the challenges that the community is currently facing on those fronts,” Hacker said.
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