Albany Park gets more public spaces, community pantry upgrades and street repairs in latest neighborhood budget

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ALBANY PARK — Residents of Albany Park will see improved streets and lanes, a new natural playground and a shed to support a community food pantry following an annual vote on how to spend the money from the city for the neighborhood.

Each year, the 50 neighborhoods each receive $1.5 million from the city budget for special projects and repairs. Since 2020, the 33rd arrondissement has allowed neighbors to vote on how this money is spent using participatory budgeting.

The majority of the more than 800 neighbors who voted said they wanted $500,000 set aside for the resurfacing of lanes and streets across the neighborhood, Ald. said Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez (33rd).

That’s about half of the total funds for this year, so Rodriguez-Sanchez is using the remaining money on the seven most popular projects that neighbors voted on.

Of this amount, $25,000 will be set aside to upgrade the Drake Gardens Community Pantry, 4643 N. Drake Ave.

Albany Park residents launched the food pantry during the early days of the pandemic to help those facing food insecurity in the neighborhood. Since then, they’ve donated canned goods and other non-perishables to neighbors in need, volunteer Evan Hoffman said.

Credit: Provided.
The current plastic shed that serves as storage for the pantry in Drake Gardens.

The pantry is open 24/7, but it’s limited by the small plastic shed it uses for storage. The hangar also suffered wear and tear from Chicago’s extreme weather conditions.

The new, more sustainable structure will have space for signs and store gardening tools, as well as a fold-out “lemonade stand” style window to allow volunteers to better organize fresh produce, seedling and gardening events. exchange of seeds from the garden.

“It will be fantastic to be able to bring more people together and have more events that build community,” said volunteer Evan Hoffman.

Neighbors also voted to spend money on improving traffic lights on California and Diversey Avenues, but that project will go ahead with funding from State Senator Cristina Pacione-Zayas. Neighborhood money will instead pay for $250,000 in playground improvements neighbors wanted at West River Park.

Bateman Elementary, 4220 N. Richmond St., will receive $75,000 for an educational nature play space to help children develop social and emotional skills.

“I think Bateman had wanted a space like this for a very long time and there weren’t the resources to do it,” Rodriguez-Sanchez said. “So we are very proud to be able to invest money in schools like this.”

Another $25,000 will be used to create a public gathering space near Kedzie and Leland Avenues near the Brown Line stop.

The goal is for this space to serve as a “gateway to Albany Park” that would widen the sidewalk, allow for the installation of public art, and seating and lighting upgrades that would beautify the neighborhood and would contribute to public safety, Rodriguez-Sanchez said.

“Permanently occupied spaces are less likely to have violent events,” Rodriguez-Sanchez said. “And it builds the fabric of our communities by allowing people to interact by creating space for markets so people can go out and sell their wares, and also have space for recreation. It just makes our community stronger.

Other wishlist items that have been cut include $75,000 to repave sidewalks for elderly or disabled residents, $250,000 for stamped crosswalks and $25,000 for trees.

However, Rodriguez-Sanchez said she is investigating whether Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s plan to have 75,000 new trees across the city over the next five years could allow the $25,000 to be spent elsewhere.

Ballots that did not make it through this year due to a lack of funding include $16,000 for a safety net at the Cleveland Elementary football field, $15,000 for picnic tables at California Park, $60,000 for resurfacing a tennis court in Brands Park and $24,000 for benches and repairing the dolphin statue in Brands Park.

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