Ald. Sophia King (4th) held the first meeting of the Kenwood Advisory Council on Thursday evening, explaining again that the neighborhood-improvement councils for each section of a Chicago community area in her ward would help guide approaches to and decisions around specific local policy issues.
Attorney Tonya Primus will chair the advisory council, King announced, with realtor Cameron Parker, who said he is particularly interested in development, as vice chair.
"They approached both of us. We had been talking to the alderman and some of the neighbors about making it a better neighborhood and a better place for everyone,” Primus said. "Then Ald. King talked to us about this organization. They've already started several of them already, and when you hear the feedback this evening, you can see there's a real need."
"Think about how much better we are when we engage and go out and do things together. It makes a better place for ourselves, our children," she continued. "My children live on the block with other children, but they don't know them because they all go to different schools. Wouldn't it be great to be able to get people together to talk, like we are in this organization, to be able to make things better, to be able to help each other, to communicate if there is an issue or to be able to help your neighbor?"
The main council will meet three or four times a year. Subcommittees on arts and parks, education, development, infrastructure, public safety, economic development and jobs meeting as they see fit; no more than monthly, except when responding to emergencies.
The chair for block clubs has yet to be named, but King called for a social person to step forward to organize block clubs in Kenwood and the other community areas. King said the chair would likely interact with all the subcommittees and take on communicative and public safety-related tasks.
"Our mission is really to empower our neighborhoods to make substantive improvements to their community and their quality of life," King said. "We feel that, through communication, through you guys getting together, coming up with what you feel are the priorities and major issues, that we can, as an office, leverage our resources to help you as a community achieve some of those goals and elevate your particular community — and the overall community as well."
Meeting attendees broke into subcommittee working groups after King’s introduction and reported back later to the full meeting.
Damascus Harris, a former head of the Berkeley-Ellis Neighborhood Association who helped with King’s Teens on 53rd Halloween effort, reported out for the public safety group.
He said the group called for more police presence, and he added that the neighborhood needs to identify hot spots, specifically by what crime occurs there, and how they overlay with "perceived clique territories," referring to the smaller contingents that formed after the dissolution of larger gangs in Chicago.
"You need to know where those cliques operate out of, what buildings they're in, what their things are, who is in conflict with whom, because once you understand those dynamics, you also understand how the hot spots overlay," Harris said. Once identified, he suggested that crime-prevention information sessions could be held. He also highlighted Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy meetings, wherein beat officers describe public safety and crime news at monthly beat meetings, and said police are more responsive to issues raised when more civilians attend them.
Slayton Goodman, who works for the Alternative School Network, reported out for education group, which discussed how to support local school councils, teaching parents how to advocate for schools' needs, supporting preschools and canvassing and soliciting donations from vocational companies and corporations for internships and jobs training. King, a former teacher, talked about after-school co-curricular programming to cultivate students' passions and keep them off the streets. Discussion followed about the disparate conditions of public schools in the ward and a desire for the subcommittee to work on equity.
Azurii Collier said the development group talked about adding more entertainment locations, especially for children and seniors; more outdoor gathering spaces; more affordable rentals, especially with parking; more access to amenities like food trucks; and restoring the bridge over Lake Shore Drive on the 5100 South block. King observed that that bridge is actually in the 5th Ward but promised to take note of it. Later discussion added management of existing developments, historic preservation and increased commitment to getting more community involvement with proposed development to the list.
Tiffany Liner, who lives in the 4th Ward but works for Rogers Park Ald. Maria Hadden's (49th) office, reported for the infrastructure group, which talked about sidewalk, curb and gutter repairs and street and alley resurfacing, whether the city is ensuring open street light panel boxes are safe and making sure burned-out lights are replaced.
King said her $1.35 million in "menu money" for ward capital needs is distributed based on constituent input, suggesting that the infrastructure subcommittees would report on what their neighborhood's needs are. She said her office currently prioritizes needs based on immediacy.
"I'll be honest," King said. "There's certain parts of the ward that have historically been under-resourced. And so we have been spending a little more money in those parts of the ward, but we try to do an equal distribution outside of that." She said her office is not considering participatory budgeting, wherein constituents vote on what menu money-funded projects to do, saying it is expensive to implement and that those who cast ballots for projects are unrepresentative of the community.
"The structure isn't dissimilar from what we're trying to set up now," she said. "We want the input of the community. We want to hear what you think are the priorities."
Bridget Verdun, who works in corporate art, said the arts and parks group discussed creating a master list of parks and cultural groups within boundaries of Kenwood in the 4th Ward: the area between Lake Park and Cottage Grove avenues, Hyde Park Boulevard and 47th Street as well as the Newport Condominiums, 4800 S. Chicago Beach Drive.
They also discussed utilizing area libraries, digitally cataloging public art, perhaps for an art walk or scavenger hunt, public space beautification and ways to get schoolchildren, seniors, families and pet-owners into the parks. King said she wanted the group to think about ways to beautify the 47th Street exit off of Lake Shore Drive and other entrances to the ward.
Keiana Barrett spoke for the block clubs group, which talked about walking tours, welcoming new neighbors, making phone and email trees, area beautification and drafting a block club toolkit.