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Three Logan Square residents—Charlie Keel, a preservationist and architectural historian, architect Don Semple, and transportation planner Ryan Westrom—thought up the Bicentennial Improvements Project, a plan to turn the square into a greener, more pedestrian-friendly space by 2018. (The name is a play on the Illinois Centennial Monument, aka the eagle statue.) With support from politicians including alderman Rey Colon and Cook County commissioner Edwin Reyes, the plan has recently entered the RFQ phase (request for qualifications), which means the city and Chicago Department of Transportation are demonstrating some support by asking for bids and more fleshed-out proposals from engineers and designers.
The BIP involves transforming the strip of Kedzie directly east of the bus depot into a green space, or "zocalo," a name Colon suggested that references town squares in Mexican cities. Along with its significant changes to the existing park and roadway looping around the main square—including removing vehicle traffic from the strip of Milwaukee running through the square—the plan is meant to lessen traffic and make the area more accessible.
"Now it's an island surrounded in asphalt," says Semple. "If we can add more green space, we can add more character."
The idea really started with traffic. There's a science to making the roadways safer and work better for everyone, according to Semple, who says that better routing for cars and paths for bikes through the main segment makes things safer and more efficient for everyone.
The plan's been in the works for four years and resulted from feedback from fellow neighbors and engaging with local politicians and business owners.
"We are indeed in favor of the proposal, applaud its boldness, and are truly hopeful it will be realized," says Pete Toalson, a partner in Longman & Eagle, which would be right in the midst of the proposed changes.
He added: "We'd obviously be positively impacted by the addition of any green space in front of our space in lieu of car traffic, but we are as concerned with—and appreciate—the larger plan generally. The square itself is one of the components that make Logan Square so unique, so it's refreshing to see a plan that expands upon and recognizes this uniqueness".
"This is a stimulus to show the potential," says Keel. "This could be like a Millennium Park for the neighborhoods. Less and less people own cars—they want to engage with their neighborhood, have a natural sense of pride in the space. We want to help make these spaces thrive. A natural sense of community is coming back."
Keel's very rough estimate for the cost of this transformation is
$70 to $80 million $7 to $8 million, though as part of the "bottom-up" planning process the group is advocating, the current plan is more like a catalyst to get people talking as opposed to any kind of final proposal. Keel says that when he discusses the concept with neighbors, the conversation quickly gets to a point where he can shut up and listen, since people become energized considering what's possible in their own backyard. "[Shutting up] about this has been my entire goal," he says.