Belmont Pedestrian Plaza -- a Placemaking Proposal for Lakeview

by crandell | 04/06/2009

Crude rendering of what a Belmont Plaza might look like.
Giddings Plaza in Lincoln Square was created through a similar street reconfiguration. Photo: Erik Swedlund

In celebration of the Burnham Centennial, I'm sharing an idea to enhance the public realm in my neighborhood. I've lived in Lakeview for six years, and while I love it, I've always felt that it's missing a quality public gathering space. The various sub-neighborhoods kind of have their own little centers, but you can't really inhabit those places. Most of the sidewalks are too narrow and there aren't places to sit. I grew up near Annapolis, Md., which has a harbor with a plaza where people would hang out to talk, eat ice cream, drink coffee, etc. And Lakeview alone is almost three times the size of Annapolis, so we should be able to support a place like that. Anyone who has lived in a European city also knows what a pleasure a nice centrally located plaza can be. But even some other neighborhoods in Chicago have such places. I'm thinking of Giddings Plaza in Lincoln Square, which is a great, active public place.

These kinds of shared spaces are an important symbol of the civic life of a neighborhood. They represent a common investment by the community to provide a democratic place for all people to use and enjoy. I believe attention to the civic realm is really what distinguishes great urban places from bland suburbs.

So I've been dreaming for some time about getting a plaza on Belmont near the CTA station. I was inspired by Lincoln Square and thought of a similar plan, which would not only create a wonderful civic place, but would also be very doable. The plan involves creating a cozy pedestrian plaza at Wilton and Belmont by returning two-way traffic to Wilton and making it a cul-de-sac.

View Larger Map

Why a pedestrian plaza and why here?

An Outdoor Living Room for Central Lakeview
-- A public gathering space for residents and visitors
-- A place for shoppers to rest and customers to enjoy takeout food and drinks in the public realm
-- A vibrant open space where residents can go to read, relax, hang out with friends, and people-watch
-- A place for farmers markets and public performances
-- Would improve the public realm adjacent to the CTA's vacant lots, increasing the chance that developers would invest to add high-quality buildings to the neighborhood, and maximizing the CTA's return on the lots

At the Heart of the Neighborhood
-- In the middle of the Belmont strip, which is one of a handful of "Pedestrian Streets" designated by the city zoning code
-- Heavy foot traffic from commuters and shoppers means plenty of people who are already there would enjoy the space
-- Adjacent commercial uses will keep the space vibrant and active
-- By the Belmont CTA stop, but not adjacent to it, so there will be a barrier between the station and the plaza reducing the noise and creating a sense of enclosure

Positive Pedestrian Impact, Minimal Automobile Traffic Impact
-- Closing Wilton at this intersection would improve the pedestrian experience and create a continuous sidewalk on the Belmont strip by removing a point where pedestrians and automobiles cross paths
-- Within the half-mile pedshed (10-minute walk) of the Belmont station, 49% of commuters take transit and 7% walk or ride a bike to work, and 27% of households are carfree (2000 Census). This means that every day, the Belmont sidewalks flood with half of our working residents on their way to work, as well as many more people coming to our neighborhood to work and play.
-- Wilton Ave. is only one block long, and it's one-way toward Belmont, so traffic impact would be minimal

Similar Projects in Chicago
Jefferson Playlot in East Pilsen
Giddings Plaza in Lincoln Square
Piazza DiMaggio in Little Italy

I'm not sure you go far

I'm not sure you go far enough with your excellent idea. The land just east of the tracks at Belmont, used for the last few years by the CTA for construction trailers and staging, could be part of the public space, with plenty of trees and greenery. Yes, there will be train noise but the concrete track bed mitigates some of that, and urbanites know how to pause in their conversation when the train rumbles in.

Or are you thinking of commercial/residential uses on that odd-shaped piece of land next to the track bulge?

I like the idea. You would

I like the idea. You would probably need some crosswalks across Belmont at Wilton and a signal there since the train station entrance is on the south side of the street.

Thanks for the Feedback.

Thanks for the Feedback. Patrick, I was thinking of a mixed-use building on the vacant lot next to the tracks. I believe it's almost as wide as a standard lot, and the CTA will be selling the property when construction is done. Street level retail would really contribute to the life of the plaza, and a building would help create a sense of enclosure. I also think it would extremely difficult in Lakeview to convert private land to public park space, considering the cost of land. If that were feasible though, I'd actually love to see the Dunkin Donuts parking lot at Clark and Belmont reconstituted into a plaza.

Anon -- there will actually be station entrances and exits on both sides of the street when construction is finished, which will be a boon to street life on the north side of the street. I agree though it would still be great to have crosswalks to the plaza to make it even more of a pedestrian priority area. Would also be great to see the sidewalks widened and the street narrowed at the plaza.

Okay, I see how mixed-use

Okay, I see how mixed-use development could actually enhance it as long as you get that full street width for the plaza. If I'm not mistaken CTA bought those properties, so they could probably resell to a private developer and use the money to, I don't know, extend the canopies on the Belmont platforms? Though I'll bet the economics are not so good right now.

Actually, I was just reading

Actually, I was just reading about this in my neighborhood association's meeting minutes:
"It was reported that the CTA may be able to extend the canopies for the length of eight cars at the Belmont and Fullerton stations which will be the only two stations with the extended canopies. There was a question about the sound dampeners and it was reported that they will eventually be installed at Belmont and Fullerton. The property on the north side of Belmont will eventually be sold as the CTA cannot hold property." (CLVN Feb 2009 Newsletter)

Great idea. The narrowest

Great idea. The narrowest part of the strip being sold off might be difficult to build on, so this idea has potential. It's something you should float to Tunney and Feigenholtz. I believe she lives on that stretch of Wilton. BTW, I think this is actually in Hawthorne Neighbors area, not Central Lake View Neighbors. Support from Central Lakeview Merchants Association would also be useful.

Thanks, Y. I will likely

Thanks, Y. I will likely float the idea to Hawthorne Neighbors and CLMA to see what people think first.

I really like this idea.

I really like this idea. Nice work.

I don't live in the area, but I am car-less and pop by the site from time to time, and I like to hang out around Belmont a few times a year, so you have my vote.

As far as I know this kind

As far as I know this kind of places also can enhance the prices of the apartments that surround them. I am glad to see there an initiative in your neighborhood, people will definitely enjoy the space. We have a similar project in our area, that's how I know the property price can get higher just a bit but for further details I think I'll ask my real estate Cancun broker, he knows everything about it.