West Town Residents Forming New Neighborhood Group

By Emily Morris on June 19, 2014 7:53am 

 Liz Kuhn is among a group of neighbors spearheading an effort to create a new community group in West Town.
Liz Kuhn is among a group of neighbors spearheading an effort to create a new community group in West Town.
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WEST TOWN — When Liz Kuhn moved just west of Damen Avenue earlier this year, the social worker who had been active in her neighborhood group found herself without a organization to turn to for local issues.

The section of West Town bounded by Chicago, Grand, Damen and Western avenues is something of a no-man's land when it comes to neighborhood groups, she said.

To solve the conundrum, Kuhn and a number of her neighbors have spearheaded in recent months an effort to create a new organization that she hopes will allow them to better team up when it comes to local issues, including preservation and development, area safety and creating neighborhood events.

"It is important to have a community group to serve as a liaison to the aldermen," she said.

And in this case, the group will have to deal with two. The area currently falls within the wards of both Ald. Joe Moreno (1st) and Ald. Roberto Maldonado (26th).

She consulted with leaders of other nearby organizations, among them Ukrainian Village Neighborhood Association head Steve Niketopoulos, to help execute a vision.

"It’s kind of when you see the big picture and you see where there needs to be a bit more representation," Niketopoulos said.

While individual residents can show up at an alderman's office whenever they're facing a problem, Niketopoulos said groups like his help lend an amplified voice.

"You get heard much more quickly when you’re represented by neighbors together," he said.

The area is too far west to be part of the Chicago Grand Neighbors Association, which Kuhn was once a part of before she moved, and it's too far south to be counted as part of the Ukrainian Village Neighborhood Association.

Kuhn said she and some of her neighbors had been attending Ukrainian Village meetings or following along on Facebook even though they weren't eligible to be members. Many of her neighbors refer to where they live as Ukrainian Village, adding to the general confusion.

In the absence of a single neighborhood identity, Kuhn said it's all about "creating that social fabric that would tie all of us together."

Kuhn and her fellow residents are in the early stages of creating the group, which doesn't yet have a name, with a steering committee and a meeting held last week with Niketopoulos to learn some feedback.

She expected 10 to 15 people to attend the Saturday morning gathering, Kuhn said, but nearly 60 people showed up.

"I was just blown away," she said.

In addition to engaging with potential members on Everyblock and via a private Facebook page, Kuhn's gone door-to-door distributing fliers to let others know about the new group and local concerns.

A recent example includes when Kuhn helped get the word out in May about the impending sale of Onward Neighborhood House.

For those who want to get involved moving forward, Kuhn suggests checking her blog for updates or emailing neighborhoodoptions60612@gmail.com. She expects the process of gathering feedback and deciding how to structure the group to take months.

"There is a lot of positive momentum, but it just took someone to say 'Hey, let's make this happen,'" Kuhn said. "I’m not saying this work is done, but at least we have that momentum going."

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