CHINATOWN — Residents and business leaders gathered on Monday to vote for programs and policies they'd like to see in the neighborhood's future.
The goals are to make Chinatown a "livable, sustainable and prosperous community," said C.W. Chan, chair of the Coalition for a Better Chinese American Community, one of three groups leading the "Chinatown Vision Plan," a first-of-its-kind civic roadmap.
But first, representatives Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning had to give participants at Monday's "town hall" forum a sense of the neighborhood's present. Among their findings, compiled by studying demographic data and community outreach:
• The neighborhood could use some cleaning up. Time and again, the issue of cleanliness ranked among the top concerns.
• Chinatown is flush with small businesses, with nine of the area's 10 largest employers employing 65 people or fewer. And most of then, some two-thirds, are retail.
• The neighborhood is filled with drivers. Nearly half of those surveyed, 46 percent, said they drive alone versus the 25 percent using public transit.
• Seventy-five percent speak Chinese at home. Of those, more than half — 57 percent — said they don't speak English very well.
• Housing is "relatively cheaper" compared to the rest of the Chicago region, but securing affordable housing is a big concern for residents. Some 61 percent of residents are renters.
• About 63 percent of residents have high school diplomas; 25 percent have a bachelor's degree or higher.
• Commercial vacancy remains an issue. Twenty-three percent of the available office is space is vacant.
Leaders at the forum — held at the Pui Tak Community Center and hosted by the CBCAC, Ald. Danny Solis (25th) and CMAP — outlined some of the community baselines in areas like housing, transportation, business and education, then asked residents to vote on solutions.
Participants numbered in the hundreds at the meeting's outset, but dwindled down to a few dozen as it wore on.
All were given handheld keypad devices and polled on the options for each of the 10 categories.
The results included:
• In the "parks and open spaces category," residents opted for the installation of a community garden as a better use of outdoor space than outdoor playground equipment.
• To help lure more businesses to Chinatown, residents voted that business workshops would be a better idea than a bilingual educational campaign.
• Respondents were asked whether neighborhood children have "the opportunity to attend an affordable, good high school." Some 46 percent either disagreed or strongly disagreed while 44 percent agreed or strongly agreed. Ten percent were neutral on whether the neighborhood high school options — Kelly High School, Phillips Academy High School and Tilden Career Academy High School — were good options.
• On the job front, respondents said they'd like to see more opportunities in the service and information technology fields more than they'd like to see jobs in manufacturing, health care and logistics.
Leaders with CMAP will take the feedback garnered at the forum and use it to create a comprehensive plan, which should be approved in early 2014. A modest implementation is expected to begin in spring.
"What we have is a vision of Chinatown and how to make it the best possible community it can be," Solis said.
After a year that's seen the opening of a boathouse and field house at Ping Tom Memorial Park and the unveiling of a new, architecturally stunning library. the prospect of more civic development cleary has tantalized community leaders.
"Together we can not fail. We'll be moving this community forward," Chan said.