Woodard Plaza, at the intersection of Milwaukee and Kimball, is the only public open space in Avondale on Milwaukee Avenue beyond Logan Square. It was designed by noted landscape architect Terry Guen and built in 2013 by CDOT as part of their Make Way for People program. While it was a gift from the City to our community, it came with the stipulation that we had to take care of it. However, instead of a gathering and performance space encircled by a garden of native plants as originally intended, over the years it became overgrown with weeds, trash, and infested with rats.
While doing a resource inventory for The Corner Project, Avondale artist Lynn Basa recognized that the plaza was a significant underutilized asset. She took on the task of its rehabilitation so that the community could fully benefit from it. She began by investigating how the plaza came to be in such a sorry state and discovered two major factors. First, the original maintenance agreement between CDOT, Crown Liquors and Voice of the City was not being adhered to because maintaining the plaza was simply too big of a job for one business and a tiny non-profit art organization. Second, the stormwater irrigation and drainage system had failed and was too costly and complicated for a community group to remediate. There was no water source and only one electrical outlet worked. In short, nothing was getting done because everyone thought it was someone else’s job.
To untangle the situation, Basa formed a collaborative leadership team with two neighboring arts organizations, Basic Studios and Northwest Arts Connection to develop a plan of action. On July 18, 2019 we met with representatives from every group that had responsibility for the plaza: CDOT, Activate! Chicago, 35th Ward superintendent, Alderman Carlos Rosa, Logan Square Chamber of Commerce, Avondale Neighborhood Association.
As a result of this meeting we formed the Woodard Cultural Alliance to maintain and program the site. We now have 60+ volunteers from the neighborhood who have weeded and mulched the plaza. The City is rat-baiting. Crown Liquors, Chicago Streets and Sanitation, and Basa clean up the trash. In Spring 2019 Water Department will open the fire hydrant so that we have a hose connection. CDOT is going to fix the outdoor electrical outlets and correct the drainage problem in the planting beds on the Milwaukee and Kimball Street sides. We have a plan for snow removal.
For programming, we have created a web site and social media accounts. In 2019 we will add a “user manual” and on-line calendar for artists who wish to schedule times to perform on the plaza. The Logan Square Chamber of Commerce will act as the fiscal agent for WCA’s funding and insurance. We will begin fundraising for programming in 2019.