Ald. Sophia King (4th) introduced her plan for a Hyde Park advisory council that would allow neighborhood residents to discuss local issues with each other and share information with her office at a Feb. 26 meeting.
King plans to create advisory councils in each community area where she has constituents: North Kenwood/Oakland, South Loop, Kenwood, Hyde Park, Douglas and Grand Boulevard. The larger councils in each neighborhood will meet three or four times annually.
“What we decided to do is form these advisory councils around communities in the hopes that it will empower communities to help themselves,” said King, who added that her office has been working to develop the structure for nearly two years. “We’re gonna have public and open meetings, and we hope other meetings can kind of begin to operate through (the committees).”
The advisory council’s leadership will consist of a chair, a vice chair, and a secretary. Additionally, a block club chair will organize and communicate with neighborhood block clubs and six subcommittees will hold regular meetings, each dealing with a particular area: arts and parks, development, education, economic development and public safety.
“Infrastructure, we could be talking about new lighting or new streetscapes. Arts and parks, we could be talking about what are we gonna do with the park — what’s the best and highest use?” asked King. “We want to get on the kind of schedule where we can do something like anticipate developers in advance, and they can come and present.”
The chair of the advisory council in Hyde Park will be Bennie Currie. Currie, a long-time resident and financial adviser, is also on the Hyde Park Chamber of Commerce, and founded the Hyde Park "CollaBOOration," which has worked on programming and safety around Halloween in recent years.
“I’ve been doing work in the community for a long time,” he said. “(The alderman’s office) just asked me to do this today. I called and asked my wife — she said it was OK — and then I told them I’d do it.”
About 15 people showed up to Wednesday night’s meeting. After King explained the structure of the advisory council, attendees split up into breakout groups focused on the different areas the subcommittees would cover.
At the public safety corner, residents spoke about the need to expand community engagement, as well as the University of Chicago Police Department’s data transparency and accountability measures. (A 2014 statewide bill would have required the department to release records to the public under the Freedom of Information Act, but it stalled in the Senate.)
“In the interest of true community involvement, we need to have true transparency,” said resident Alysia Tate. “As residents, the more information we have, the better we can engage in partnership.”
The development breakout group focused on housing affordability, like the need for development that does not result in displacement, or more information about cheap housing. “A lot of buildings do have affordable units in them, but you have to know, like, the secret password,” said Michelle Gilbert, the group’s presenter.
At the end of the meeting, Currie said that he hoped the meeting would bring more residents into conversations about how their community can change for the better.
“We want everyone to know the broader neighborhood,” he said. “It can be kind of insular — we’re trying to get Hyde Park to break out of that.”