Proactive attempt for consensus about sidewalk cafes and streetscape on Division was successful


Alderman Moreno listens to business owners

Balancing economics and environment on commercial streets is a challenge that puts many community stakeholders on opposite sides of an issue. Tree pits and sidewalk cafes are the current issues that Alderman Proco "Joe" Moreno, 1st Ward, decided to address in an open meeting.


Malcolm Whitside Jr., Deputy Commissioner, Dpartment of Streets and Sanitzation, Bureau of Forestry

Business owners, residents, business and community organizations, the 1st Ward Aldermanic Office, Dept. of Streets and Sanitation Bureau of Forestry, Dept. of Business Affairs & Consumer Protection were all represented by the more than 50 attendees at the Feb. 27 meeting in the Bedford, 1612 W. Division St.


Anthony Bertuca, Dept. of Business Affairs & Consumer Protection

While it was an opportunity for the City departments to go over permitting and process, the heart of the meeting was to address the issues of streetscape, trees and sidewalk cafes along Division St. west of Ashland Ave. Discussions included the street's history from the early 1990s, the benefits and needs of an urban forest,  changing  restaurant business models, economic reality and having a plan that provides for consistent results along the street.

Historic view
"Division Street was a mess. No one wanted to walk here. We had pits that were surrounded by yellow danger tape. Bums slept in the caved-in vaulted sidewalks. There was no leadership and no alderman around to take care of the area," explained Christy Webber who used to live just off of Division on Winchester.


Christy Webber listens as Neil McKnight, Pres. of East Village Assn. makes a point

"The comeback started with a few small businesses and cafes between the gun shots….it got cleaned up. It was a time when there was a lot of white flight out of the City. The mayor assigned his deputy mayor to 'Get out there and take care of that neighborhood.'  Business owners told the deputy that the area should 'look pretty.' Duks (a fast food place which was a haven for gangs) lost its payphone as did Shell and a couple others." Plans for putting the streetscape began. Vaulted sidewalks were replaced, trees were planted.

Benefits and needs of an urban forest
Whether or not one believes in global warming, a mature tree canopy reduces air temperatures by about 5 to 10 degrees, making the heat-island effect cooler for patrons along a street. Air quality is improved and water quality is improved. A mature tree absorbs from 120 to 240 lbs of small particles and gases of air pollution. Storm water crashing through our sewers can be reduced significantly because the trees absorb the water.

These tree benefits translate into good economic news. Shoppers say they will spend 9% to 12% more for goods and services and stay longer and travel farther and longer to visit a business district with a high-quality tree canopy.


Joseph McCarthy, Senior City Forester from the Bureau of Forestry, listens as Phil Laurin, Pres. Wicker Park/Bucktown Chamber of Commerce speaks

To reap these rewards the trees must be cared for and maintained. "The trees and fences along our commercial streets such as Division and North Avenues are public property not an individual's property. The care and maintenance of the trees is our utmost priority," says David Ginople, Chairman, Wicker Park/Bucktown Special Service Area #33.

Changing restaurant business model
Business models for restaurants have changed for some over the years. Businesses can increase their square foot service area during Chicago's 9-month outdoor café season. While taking advantage of this new income stream, many businesses look at creating "their" space the way they want it and with the maximum number of seats within their allotted space.  The trees often fall victim in meeting a restaurateur's wants.


Boundary owner asks how tree and business needs can be best met

At the meeting, owners of the Boundary indicated their interest in doing the right things for the trees and are interested in knowing what those "things" are. They noted that there is a lot of inconsistency in the tree pits and fences in just a couple of blocks along Division. They asked who is going to pay for the trees. "Is there a way to maintain tree health without fencing. Is there a way to protect trees and accomplish business owners goals as well?" They would like to see cooperative efforts to find ways to maximize space while being good tree caretakers.

Erik Grossnickle of Bartlett Tree Experts explained several points. "A tree pit should be larger than the expanse of the tree canopy. Trees along Michigan Ave. are large and healthy because they have a lot of soil around them. We cannot have 50 feet per tree here but we can have 10 feet.


Erik Grossnickle explains the soil needs of a tree

"Regarding trimming the trees by your business, only those licensed to trim trees in the public way should be doing so. The weather, salt, and other environmental challenges make tree care and maintenance a necessity to reap the maximum economic advantage of a tree. Covering a trees roots with pavers or making the pit smaller will shorten a tree's life.

As Ginople points out, "Public way permits are a privilege not a right." With "privilege" comes the need for some "rules of the road."  Scott Rappe from the East Village Assn. further notes that there must also be full cooperation and follow through between and among City Departments, the Alderman's office, residential and business organizations and the businesses.  "City Departments which are to monitor the public ways must step up and enforce the ordinances."

Economic reality
The economic reality of caring for and maintaining our urban forest is not something for which the City can be relied on. Their resources are very limited.


Wayne Janik, Chair of the SSA #33's Clean, Green and Safe Committee

Since SSA#33 was created they have invested approximately $300,000 in the "care and feeding" of our urban forest. Their activities have included tagging and taking an inventory and recording the results in a database they had created. There are 1,600-plus tagged trees on the commercial streets and in Wicker Park. Each tree's health and value are part of the data stored by tree. In an analysis of the community’s trees it was learned that they intercept more than 1.1 million gallons of rainfall each year, helping to reduce storm water runoff, which contributes to flooding. The annual value of that service to the City is $30,443.

Many of the trees are also part of a research project with Bartlett Trees that is measuring the success of various maintenance approaches.


Paradise Cantina is next to building

A plan
With some cafes next to the building and others next to the curb, complaints about the sidewalk cafes creating a maze on commercial streets throughout the 1st Ward caused then 1st Ward Alderman Manny Flores to setup the policy that cafes were to be along the curb versus against the building.

The City ordinance states cafes must be 6 feet from the nearest obstruction but do not say whether that is a building or curb. The lack of consistency throughout the Ward puts this issue on the table again along with fences and tree pit sizes.


This structure at Mana puts into question the 6-foot rule and the true meaning of an outdoor cafe

It was noted that Division Street, with 10-foot-wide sidewalks, has the widest public space sidewalks in the City and that there is plenty of room for all stakeholders to have their issues satisfied.

Everyone agreed that there needs to be a plan. Streetscape is vital to the area and trees are the primary asset of the streetscape. Consistency is vital to the success of the plan. In addition, the City Departments must enforce the rules consistently.

Next steps include creating a plan which then must be implemented diligently and consistently. Meetings of the various stakeholders since the Feb. 27 meeting show a determination that the successful meeting turn into a successful plan. Everyone would like to avoid another situation as arose with Anthem.



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