ROGERS PARK: REVITALIZATION PROTOTYPE

The late Senator Paul Wellstone of Minnesota said when everyone does better, everyone does better.   Look no further than Chicago’s Rogers Park Neighborhood to understand the truth in Wellstone’s statement.     Everyone seems to be doing better in Rogers Park thanks to a tightly-knit community of stakeholders – residents, businesses, property owners, local leaders – all visionaries whose passion helped revitalize a once-blighted neighborhood.   This community’s motivation to renew a once-vibrant area celebrated its first step toward creating change in 2003 when it became a Special Service Area.

The spirit of community revitalization is the mission of a Special Service Area.   SSAs, which date back to the late 1970s, provide a variety of services and projects to promote and preserve neighborhoods like Rogers Park.   SSAs fund these endeavors through a small tax levy.   The funds from the SSA tax can only be used to provide services within the boundaries of the specified neighborhood.

Rogers Park, the north side gateway into Chicago, is the second busiest hub and a diverse historic neighborhood.   Being a gateway location, it has made great economic sense to restore this area (known as SSA #24).     In the 6 years since Rogers Park received Chicago’s stamp of approval to become an SSA, the neighborhood looks better, feels safer, and has become a distinctive niche area and a destination for natives and visitors alike.

To achieve beautification, SSA funds provided street cleaning, graffiti removal, pressure washing of commercial area sidewalks, repainting of public amenities, installation of new landscaping and neighborhood banners (such as the notable Clark Street banners).   When you visit Rogers Park, note the attractive makeovers of small business facades.

Thanks to a dedicated community and the funds of the SSA, Rogers Park has been empowering others to do better.   Rogers Park Business Alliance and The School of the Art Institute spearheaded a win-win partnership between interior design students and local business owners through The Windows Project.   Begun in 2004, design students have gotten real world experience in redesigning storefronts, while business owners’ facades received an artful makeover.     The partnership brought aesthetics and a distinct image to Rogers Park, which has attracted not only natives who value shopping locally but also curious visitors who want to check out the festivals and distinctive culture of Rogers Park as an artist’s haven.

Advertising and marketing campaigns on behalf of Rogers Park, funded by the SSA, were significant in making the area the destination it has become.     Attend an event in the neighborhood, such as the Glenwood Arts Festival, Celebrate Clark Street Fair, or perhaps a sidewalk sale (sponsored by the SSA) and you will note how much Rogers Park offers.

The Glenwood Arts District, sponsored by the SSA, is indeed a haven for the artist, the arts enthusiast, and everyone in between.   A source of neighborhood pride for Rogers Park, the Glenwood Arts District has been instrumental in the area’s cultural distinction.   The district could well be a prototype for other communities who want to designate a special area to celebrate and integrate the arts.   Entertainment and arts venues, theaters, studios/galleries, restaurants, stores and more have created a vibrancy that has people talking.   Keeping with this culture is the “Mile of Murals,” which covers the retaining walls of the El tracks.    During a sold-out local district tour which took place back in Spring 2009, Glenwood Avenue and parts of Morse Avenue were highlighted.   Business owners opened their doors to welcome attendees and share their experiences of being a part of this dedicated arts district.

Wherever you live, put Rogers Park on your list of places to visit in Chicago.   You’ll see proof of how a devoted and passionate community (and Special Service Area) can transform itself and showcase its beauty.     Rogers Park will show you how when everyone does better, everyone does better.

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