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People Spots Before Parking Spots? Public Spaces Snag Parking in 'Hoods

By  Alisa Hauser and Serena Dai | July 8, 2013 10:21am 

 Part of the city's "Make Way for People" initiative, "people spots" occupy former parking spaces with seating and green space.
'People Spots' in Chicago Neighborhoods
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LAKEVIEW — The pavement's hidden. The greenery's in.

Now all that's left for a planned "people spot" on Southport Avenue in Lakeview is the furniture. And it's coming this week.

The outdoor spot is part of a citywide push to create tiny resting places for residents where parking spots once ruled. They are popping up around the city and garnering positive responses from users and nearby business owners who appreciate the pedestrian traffic they draw.

They do, however, reduce parking in some areas, leading to some concern in Wicker Park, where a proposed spot has business owners divided.

In Lakeview, displaced parking spots are moved down the street or take up business loading zones. One people spot on North Lincoln Avenue near Southport Avenue is already in place, with bright green chairs, tables and curvy wooden benches overtaking nearly two street parking spots and a loading zone in front of Heritage Bikes, 2959 N. Lincoln Ave.

"It's nice to have a clean area to sit in the city," said Boyd Harris, 32, who read a book at the Lincoln Avenue spot on an overcast afternoon. "Parks get dirty, and they have rats."

Both Lakeview spots are sponsored by the Special Service Tax area  No. 27, run by the Lakeview Chamber of Commerce, and are part of the citywide effort to increase public space called "Make Way for People." 

About $60,000 in funding was used to put both spots in place, said Heather Way, executive director of the Lakeview Chamber. A custom-made bench that is expected to last 10 years is at the Southport location.

"We look at these as long-term investments in the community," Way said.

On sunny days, it's clear the spot is meeting the goal of being a community attraction, according to Michael Salvatore, owner of Heritage Bikes. The bike shop-cum-coffee shop has its own patio beside the store, but the people spot fills up first on nice days — "all day long," he said.

This year, neighbors and customers asked when the spot was returning months before it popped back up, he said.

"It’s more visible," he said. "It looks more comfortable. It’s just a really accessible space."

The spots will remain until Dec. 1, weather permitting, Way said. At least three other people spots dot the city, including one in Andersonville at Clark Street and Olive Avenue, one in Kenwood, at 47th Street and Greenwood Avenue, and one in Grand Boulevard at 47th Street and Champlain Avenue.

Although parking is typically displaced to create the spots, not all of it is public parking.

Uncle Dan's at 3551 N. Southport Ave. is giving up its loading zone, so Southport's 60-foot long people spot only takes one space, Way said. Lincoln Avenue's 40-foot spot takes one-and-a-half spaces and a loading zone.

All eliminated spaces have been replaced in other parts of the street, Way said. Harris, who drove to the spot, pointed to empty spaces along Lincoln Avenue that people could use instead. 

"I support it 100 percent," he said.

In Wicker Park, the proposed people spot at 1615 N. Damen Ave. in front of an unopened Dimo's Pizza has an alderman and the general manager of a restaurant concerned about the loss of parking. Another business owner, however, is championing the spot.

The current design of the proposed people spot is 44 feet long and 6 feet deep, according to a rendering.

The spot would replace two parking spaces which are currently free and unmetered due to having "slipped under the radar" when the meters were installed, according to Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd).

Waguespack said the spaces soon will be metered.

"Since the spaces will become metered, the city's Finance Department, in their new improved meter deal, say we have to replace with 10 spots on another block, i.e. a whole block [of parking]. I'm not going to do that. So they're looking for alternatives," Waguespack said.

Waguespack added: "Loss of parking is huge. Everyone wants more. And this removes two [spaces]."

Vassaly Sivanthaphanith, general manager of Enso Sushi at 1613 N. Damen Ave., one door south of Dimo's Pizza, said she "likes the idea of [the people spot] but doesn't think it's the best location."

Sivanthaphanith said the People Spot will cause more congestion during the day and she would "fear for people sitting in it and getting hit [by cars]."

Unlike sidewalk patios, which are tied to individual businesses, people spots are public spaces where occupants' own food is allowed.

Sivanthaphanith said the people spot would not benefit Enso Sushi because it is dine-in. Still, "It would benefit Caribou Coffee [1611 N. Damen Ave.] and Dimo's Pizza, which both offer items to go."

Dimitri Syrkin-Nikolau, owner of Dimo's Pizza, is leading the charge to install a spot in front of his pizzeria, which he hopes to open soon.

"The space is allocated to the public one way or another and will generate more people coming to Damen as a people spot than parking spot," Syrkin-Nikolau said.

"Parking is always going to be an issue in Chicago. There's a limited amount of space, and the question is: What do you want to use the space for?  Two people can use the space for two hours to park two cars, or 40 people can use it in two hours as a people spot," said Syrkin-Nikolau.

Jessica Wobbekind, program manager of the special service area tax area  No. 33 said that the commission agreed to chip in $7,500 for the people spot platform, which is "the cheapest you can do a platform."

Wobbekind stressed that Wicker Park/Bucktown's people spot is "still in the planning stages and would need support from the alderman."

Syrkin-Nikolau said he "would not want to install the people spot unless the community wanted it."

To test the waters on whether or not people will support a people spot, Syrkin-Nikolau is planning to launch a Seed Chicago Kickstarter campaign, which will go live July 23, when the city-sponsored program is unveiling a second round of campaigns to highlight projects that spur economic growth and community revitalization.