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Neighborhood 'People Spots' Are Good for Business, Study Finds

  Pop-up hangouts increase sales nearby by up to 20 percent, the Metropolitan Planning Council reports.
People Spots
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THE LOOP — Pop-up "people places" aimed at giving pedestrians a place to linger are good for business, according to the Metropolitan Planning Council.

Mini-parks — specifically those created to "pop up" in parking spaces traditionally reserved for cars — can increase foot traffic by up to 80 percent at neighboring businesses, leading to an estimated 20 percent increase in sales, the council found.

The agency observed and recorded activity at each of the nine people spots arranged by the city this summer from 9 a.m.-7 p.m. on weekdays, interviewing more than 100 pedestrians and about 40 nearby business owners who pay to maintain the spots.

“The study results demonstrate the power of returning a small amount of street space to people,” Chrissy Mancini Nichols, director of research and evaluation for the council, said in a news release. “The findings show people spots not only are well used by pedestrians but can be a powerful economic tool for neighborhood businesses.”

Lizzie Schiffman says the people spots can be temporary and seasonal:

More than 80 percent of business owners surveyed said people spots are good for business and bring in extra foot traffic from the street. More than 90 percent said their nearby people spots "improved the vibe" of the street.

Dane Redaway, who manages Akira Andersonville, said the spot outside his store at 5228 N. Clark St. is "like a town square" that’s better for business because "people sit and stare at the storefront windows," he said in the study release.

Heritage Bicycles owner Michael Salvatore called the spot in front of his Lakeview shop "Instagram heaven" for the impact it's had engaging passersby with the shop's social media accounts.

The Chicago Loop Alliance, charged with maintaining State Street and engaging potential customers with local businesses, has been experimenting with "people spaces" — in parking spots and elsewhere — for the last year. 

"The short answer is that the [council's] findings are very consistent with the research we've been doing associated with our projects, specifically the Gateway at the top end of State Street," said Michael Edwards, executive director of the Loop Alliance.

"Activating" underused corners of the Loop with "place-making" initiatives has been one of the group's top priorities in recent years. 

"We feel like business are benefiting from having a branded place nearby where pedestrians can linger," Edwards said. Recent events organized by the alliance in Couch Place Alley have driven up spending by about $180,000, Edwards said. 

The alliance is planning to bring pop-up spaces like CitySeats elsewhere in the neighborhood, with an eye on Pritzker Park especially, Edwards said. 

In the concrete jungle of nearby Streeterville, a recent one-day people spot tied to a national initiative called PARK(ing) Day inspired Gail Spreen, president of Streeterville Organization of Active Residents, to start mulling over possible sites for permanent mini-green spaces.

The one-day parking spot park, where Spreen and other organization members played host for a day earlier this month, "was received really positively," Spreen said. "People thought it was a great idea. ... Every single person we talked to, if they didn't come in and throw bean bags with us, they just said, 'Wow, that's such a great idea.' It couldn't have been more positive."

Spreen said the neighborhood group would "look at the various locations where it could work," meaning Downtown could see more people spots popping up when temperatures rise again.

"Whether it's in a parking space or in an underused plaza, we think this would be something that would be really neat to do in the neighborhood. Even to have a couple of them would be great."

Not everyone loves people spots — earlier this summer, Portage Park residents rejected an offer for an urban oasis from the city, saying they'd rather have more parking spaces. But Spreen said the notoriously green space-poor Streeterville neighborhood has enough parking, and would benefit greatly from more pedestrian-focused hangouts.

"It's interesting how much fun you can have and how much you can change just a small area," Spreen said. "As much as we love 2-acre parks or 3-acre parks, just to have even a small little pocket park or people place makes such a difference."

"You shouldn't ever discount small areas, because every little one that you do something with can make a big impact," Spreen said. "The impact is much bigger than the space it's using."

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