CHINATOWN — It's taken an entire century, but the neighborhood will soon have its first comprehensive, citizen-driven plan to address civic issues like transportation, housing and economic development.
"We think it's a good idea to look forward ... and if we're going to do any sort of meaningful planning we have to involve the whole community" said C.W. Chan, chair of the Coalition for a Better Chinese American Community (CBCAC), a parent group to several neighborhood organizations.
The campaign, spearheaded by the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, the CBCAC and Ald. Danny Solis (25th), kicked off in April with a novel "postcards from the future" project that asked residents to envision the neighborhood's future.
On Monday, neighborhood groups and business leaders will take the process even further with a "Town Hall" style forum at Pui Tak Center, 2216 S. Wentworth Ave. The event is slated for 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. and Chinese translation will be available. More information on the program is available here.
Led by CMAP's planners and community outreach specialists, the forum will cover a broad range of civic topics like parks, education, transportation and business opportunities in Chinatown, defined by the study as the area between 18th Street to the north, the Stevenson Expressway to the south, Clark Street to the east, and the Chicago River to the west.
Stephen Ostrander, a senior planner with CMAP, said the agency has used U.S. Census data to conduct what's known as "existing conditions research," sort of like snapshot that offers an accurate picture of the area's demographics.
"We study all the data we can get our hands on," Ostrander said.
Working with CMAP, the neighborhood groups over the summer embarked on an outreach effort that community leaders say is unparalleled in Chinatown.
Chan said volunteers canvassed homes, polled high school students, met with factory workers, visited grocery store owners, chatted with bankers and took feedback from business owners.
“The whole idea was to bring together the young, the old and in-between. The blue collar, the white collar,” he said. “Augmenting that, we had a separate questionnaire geared towards business owners and then besides that, we had one-to-one interviews with community leaders.”
Through it all, residents outlined their top three community priorities: public safety, neighborhood cleanliness and reliable transportation.
Monday's forum, then, will be "for digging a little deeper into these issues and a more detailed, nuanced sense of where people’s priorities are," Ostrander said.
Also up for discussion will be the prospect of bringing more economic development in the neighborhood, largely known for its shopping and restaurants.
Louise Yeung, an assistant planner at CMAP, said Monday's forum will be a chance to poll residents about "what type of sectors people would be interested in ... and trying to pair that with highest growing sectors in Chicago, like trade or manufacturing or IT."
When the plan is eventually implemented — it's expected to start in spring — it will be the first of its kind since downtown development forced the old Chinatown, located near Van Buren and Clark streets, into what was then an Italian-American enclave on the South Side near Wentworth and Cermak avenues.
Last year, the neighborhood celebrated its 100th anniversary.
Since then, Chinatown has seen a number of developments hailed by local leaders as major victories, including the opening of a boathouse and field house at Ping Tom Memorial Park and the unveiling of a new, architecturally stunning library.
"One hundred years was a very good time to start looking back," Chan said. "Now, we have another 100 years coming up. It seems like the time is right. We really have to define our rightful place in the city of Chicago because we’re an integral part of the city of Chicago."