Posted by StreetWise in Magazine Articles
Looking at the Youth: Chicago Neighborhood Development Awards
By: Amanda Elliott
On Tuesday, February 17, roughly 1,400 people came together at the Chicago Hilton & Towers downtown to celebrate young people making a difference for the leaders of tomorrow and [to tell] architects, bankers, aldermen, developers, and community organizers how to build a better life for Chicagoans today at the 21st Annual Chicago Neighborhood Development Awards (CNDA).
Fresh faces, these four panelists’ work has a deep past and a persistent future. [There is a lack of agreement here between “faces” and “work.” How about “These fresh faces belie work with a deep past and a persistent future. OR Fresh faces, these four panelists have work with a deep past and a persistent future.]
Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle moderated a forum discussion with these young adult leaders about how they are sculpting their neighborhoods.
The youth panel included: Jahari Jones from Hoops-in-the-Hood and Becoming a Man; Korynna Lopez, junior at De Paul University working with the Cook County Juvenile Justice Advisory Committee; Perriyana Clay, a high school senior coach and mentor through the program Girls in the Game; and Berto Aguayo, gang member turned mentor for Back-of-the-Yards and intern for state Rep. Chris Welch.
Raised in some of the poorer areas around Chicago, too many times their neighborhoods have been a place to escape from rather than return home to.
“They made it out, and they never come back,” said Aguayo.
But these young adults decided to refute the notion that the only option is out. Rather, they are transforming their communities.
After giving a speech to 800 of his fellow students, Aguayo felt conflicted. The speech came after the summer of his junior year, which he had spent as an intern at the office of Ald. Michele Smith (43rd ward), an opportunity he obtained through the Mikva Challenge, which engages high school youth in the political process. He had been in the principal’s office so much on suspensions that she gave him an application for the program.
“I remember kids coming up to me while I was in class telling me that they look up to me,” he said.
“I knew I couldn’t be a role model and still be a gang member that I was.”
Traveling on the Halsted Street bus from 48th Street all the way to Smith’s DePaul area office – through Back of the Yards, Bridgeport and downtown – Aguayo said he saw the discrepancies of the city. In being exposed to a whole new world, he said he realized he had been expressing his love for his community in a destructive way.
“I had become the reason why people think our people can’t make it, that stereotype of troubled youth in the Hispanic community,” Aguayo said later in a telephone interview.
The decision was not without consequences. In order to leave, for three minutes he had to be beaten up by 40 of his fellow gang members, who were waiting outside of his house.
Gang life was attractive to this Mexican-American Chicagoan. Raised by a single mom who worked as late as 9 or 10 p.m., his gang provided him with everything he was seeking: a role model, an identity, and a family.
Aguayo is in his second term as student body president and serves on the Mayor’s Youth Committee as part of Mikva Challenge. The 20-year-old hopes to attend either Northwestern or the University of Chicago law school and to run for office in 2020.
Panelists felt a similar call to turn a negative part of their reality into a positive hope for their peers.
“Growing up we didn’t have positive mentors or positive people,” Jones said.
Jones became that positive person. He mentors men through various programs such as YMCA and Becoming a Man. He also tutors afterschool with the program, Afterschool Matters and helps with programs like Safe Passage.
“Last year, I helped apprehend a youth child molester,” said Jones, “I helped make a neighborhood safe for someone’s child.”
Sometimes people deserve a second chance. One of the panelists, Lopez, works to expunge juvenile records. She described kids whose families bring drugs and sex trafficking into their homes, with the resulting criminal penalties; yet later, the kids want to go on to college, not realizing what their records could mean.
While the process can be arduous, the program, Expunge.io, has helped everyone who went through it to have their record expunged, [Lopez described said]. But the number was low considering the amount of people who qualified. Expunge.io is currently working with graphic designers on marketing campaigns to increase awareness.
A second chance is not what Chicago young people seek, the panelists said, but rather a first one.
“We are the forgotten side,” Jones said about his neighborhood.
There is a lack of trust and recognition—trust of doing the right thing, of knowing that a cop will believe them, of feeling safe in their neighborhood. But trust lies at the center of neighborhood development.
“How are you gunna tell someone who you don’t trust, who murdered someone?” Aguayo said, advocating for better relationships between kids and the police. He described a police program where police simply played ball and “hung” with the kids as the way to build this preliminary trust.
There is a deep need for role models to be a catalyst for change on the South Side and the West Side.
“Kids see requirements and guidelines [and] that puts a stop to them,” Clay, who mentors young girls, said, “[They think] ‘I have nothing.’”
While a good source of encouragement is parents, panelists described a longing for someone to root for them.
“We need validation from others,” added Clay.
Role models come in various forms. They are mentors in after-school programs, teachers and authority figures such as the police.
One piece is having someone to believe in them, but the other is to create a positive outlet. A prime downtime for kids is after school.
“[After school] They don’t have much to do,” said Jones. “I was a swimmer. We have to get back into the groove.” [Didn’t he and Clay say after school programs have been cut and kids don’t have much to do?}
It takes leaders to build a better neighborhood and facilitate trust.
Throughout the night, CNDA honored projects and people in Chicago and neighboring suburbs with 10 awards.
The award ceremony congratulated the people transforming communities, integrating residents, and maintaining diversity.
CNDA is put together through the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), which plays a key financial and support role in some of the winning projects. LISC provides the first funds to community development and peer-to-peer connections, among other things.
Community development takes leadership and planning and teamwork and private and public funding.
“Local contacts drive development,” said LISC executive director, Susana Vasquez describing the process.
There are two areas of transformation, she noted. One is through vacant lots, which are rectified through incentives and market rate housing. The other is through gentrification, in which case the plan would include affordable housing.
Vacant lots, while eye sores, can also be hidden resources.
When rehabbing a building, understanding the architectural value and original design helps to use the space for its new and full potential.
Even though he added two stories, Langley said, “People say that ‘this building looks like it’s always been there, I just never noticed it,’ which was a great compliment.”
Understanding the original design was also an integral part of the live-work spaces in Bronzeville. This location gained a national spotlight when it was the largest African American department store in the world. From there it went through a high turnover rate of commercial space. It sat vacant since the 1990s.
Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd ward) saw a use for this building to add to the cultural theme of the Bronzeville neighborhood as an artist loft. The building located at 436-442 E. 47th St. received numerous bids, but was awarded to the group that saw its true architectural potential.
Teams were given four hours to review the place on-site.
“We see buildings that have been neglected. This was one of the worst conditions,” said Cheryl Noel, AIA, LEED A.P. of Wrap Architecture, “You were kind of climbing over this garbage under a sinking roof.”
Beyond the trash, Wrap Architecture noticed something that was not in the paperwork that would make this space truly spacious— walls that could be knocked down.
The original plans from the city inspector erroneously labeled the walls. Noel had to convince the city of the building’s potential, that the walls were in fact clay walls. By opening up the apartment into a loft, Noel said, “ [it] truly lends itself to live/work, and I think lots of people even other than artists are looking for this kind of more flexible live/work relationship because of the changing nature of work.”
The need continues to grow. In Pullman, one of the neighborhoods highlighted at CNDA, the firm, Pullman Artspace, LLC. received submissions to build an affordable live-work space on 111th and Langley. [Is this project on=going?]
The architecture firm on the Bronzeville project, Wrap Architecture, is a husband and wife duo. The couple met while doing affordable housing and homeless projects in the 1990s and has a history transforming the old newspaper-printing-plant-turned restaurant, Revolution Brewery in Logan Square.
The Bronzeville Artist Lofts were developed for $155 per square foot, which Noel compared to the typical cost of development at $200 to $300.
The lofts won 3rd Place for the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Award for Architectural Excellence in Community Design.
The 16 loft spaces are filled with artists of varied backgrounds, including a dancer, a DJ, painters, a fashion designer, and a graphic designer, since the grand opening in the summer of 2014. Some of the artists display their work in the gallery downstairs. Behind the live/work space is a vacant lot, which is planned as a sculpture garden.
There is a second need in community development—keeping people in the neighborhood. Whether in redeveloped neighborhoods or already burgeoning areas, such as Lakeview, gentrification is a problem.
Affordable housing is a piece to the neighborhood puzzle. The city, the alderman, architects, and a service provider saw a chance to keep people in the neighborhood, while also beautifying the neighborhood with the Fred and Pamela Buffet Place.
The project is a rehab from the 95-unit SRO Diplomat Hotel at Belmont and Sheffield Avenues into a 51-apartment building and resource center. Fred and Pamela Buffet Place won twice at CNDA. It won the first place Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Award for Architectural Excellence in Community Design and again for 1st Place for the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Award for Outstanding Non-Profit Neighborhood Real Estate Project.
“It’s important to retain economic diversity in the neighborhood,” said architect Jeff Bone, AIA, Principal Landon Bone Baker Architects. Lakeview has a lot of resources including numerous retailers and proximity to downtown.
The building was in the city’s possession due to building code violations.
“It feels good,” said Bone, who appreciates taking a negative force and making it a positive one.
The apartment building has a contemporary look with an orange steel canopy. It also incorporates green architecture through a green rooftop. It received three stars from Chicago Green Homes.
Fred and Pamela Buffet Place underwent a few transformations; one of the most notable ones was tearing down a wall and opening it up into a patio space. It now serves as an informal living room to build community among the tenants.
While there is communal space, Bone also recognized the need for privacy. “The residents need their own space. A place they can call their own. For some residents, it’s their first home.”
Sold for a whopping dollar, it serves not only as a home for 51 families and individuals, but also as a center.
For over 50 years, Thresholds has been supporting the mentally ill and people on the verge of poverty and homelessness. One of its largest offices is in Ravenswood.
At Fred and Pamela Buffet, Threshold services include mental health, employment help and educational services.
“I hope [this award] sends a signal to other investors and politicians and philanthropists that we can end homelessness in Chicago with beautiful design and great architecture and a commitment to health care,” said Mark Ishaug, CEO of Thresholds.
Additional winners included:
Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives for the Pullman Revitalization Strategy for The Chicago Community Trust Outstanding Community Strategy of the Year Award.
Bickerdike Redevelopment Corporation for 1704 N. Humboldt Building for The Polk Bros. Foundation Affordable Rental Housing Preservation Award.
Albany Park Neighborhood Council for the VOYCE Project for The Woods Fund Chicago Power of Community Award.
SKILKEN and TROY Enterprises for The SHOPS and LOFTS at 47 for The Outstanding For-Profit Neighborhood Real Estate Project Award.
Two individuals were also awarded. Sarah Ward, executive director of the South Chicago Art Center, was honored as an emerging leader with the PrivateBank Norman Bobins Leadership Award. Executive Director of the Near West Side Community Development Corp. Earnest Gates was recognized for lifetime achievement in community leadership and service with the Richard M. Daley Friend of the Neighborhoods Award.