ACTIVISM: GLADSTONE PARK NEIGHBORHOOD ASSOCIATION
It used to be if you lived where Chicago’s city limits ran out into the suburbs on N. Milwaukee Avenue on the Far Northwest side, you said you were from Jefferson Park. Sure, there was a small (William) Gladstone Park on the north side of the Kennedy Expressway with lots of Dutch Colonial houses built a century ago clustered around it. A few old maps with the “Gladstone Park” name splayed across them. And a 100-year-old Gladstone Park Union Pacific [Train] Station. But you didn’t pay much attention.
In fact, modern Gladstone Park wasn’t much of an entity at all until the City of Chicago poked the bear in 2014. That was when its Department of Transportation proposed major changes to the main artery than ran through all of Jefferson Park. In its Milwaukee Avenue Complete Streets Project – Lawrence Ave to Elston Ave, CDOT made radically different recommendations for the southern part of the road that ran through congested downtown Jeff Park than it did for the isolated 2-1/4 mile widened segment of Milwaukee north of the Kennedy Expressway (I-90). This latter section is the part that runs through the one square mile of the neighborhood loosely known as Gladstone Park.
With the Jefferson Park Neighborhood Association (JPNA) concentrating on fighting threats to N. Milwaukee’s southern segment in their more congested downtown area, Gladstonians knew they were on their own if they wanted to specifically contest the city’s plan to reduce the number of lanes and parking spaces on the wider section of the road through their community.
At once politically franchised, residents formed Friends of Gladstone Park July 6, 2014, providing a communications link through Facebook. This, even though at the time, no one was sure exactly where the community began and ended. On Oct., 2, 2015, the group changed its name to Gladstone Park Neighborhood Association (GPNA), continuing with the same Facebook page. It also established an independent webpage and later adopted the logo shown below.
Although Gladstone Park had had a working Chamber of Commerce for some years, residents now had a new group speaking for their concerns. Co-founder (and current President) Joe DiCiaula helped lead GPNA to success in its first effort, getting CDOT to back down and implement the least stringent changes to the great Milwaukee road that had always defined the community as the heart of its business district.
Continuing to represent local residents, DiCiaula has been an indefatigable and charismatic leader promoting and protecting Gladstone Park’s interests. Through the organization he guides GPNA in supporting stores and restaurants, scheduling neighborhood cleanups, mounting festivals and organizing holiday events, documenting all with abundant photos. But perhaps his most important job as the group’s President is to interface with the ward alderman on official city business as it directly affects the future of the community.
Joe DiCiaula, cofounder and current President of the Gladstone Park Neighborhood Association (GPNA). Started as Friends of Gladstone Park in 2014 to fight Chicago’s Department of Transportation proposal to reduce N. Milwaukee Avenue from 4 lanes to 2, GPNA succeeded in preserving the road that runs through the heart of its business community. A tireless and charismatic leader, DiCiaula helps organize festivals, holiday contests, and promotes businesses while recording all events on GPNA’s Facebook page for posterity. Most importantly, he and the Board interface with ward aldermen concerning official city matters that affect the community.
Gladstone Park got a further boost to its legitimacy when Chicago’s Department of Planning and Development (DPD) completed its Gladstone Park Corridor Study, Milwaukee Avenue from the Kennedy Expressway to the City Limits in 2017 at the request of the GP Chamber of Commerce. By its very title, the DPD study solidified Gladstone Park’s territory by designating the entire 2-1/4 miles from W. Foster Avenue in the south to W. Devon Avenue in the north as the community’s Business Corridor. This, even though the northern half of it had traditionally been regarded as part of adjacent Norwood Park East, a subcommunity of Norwood Park.
So far GPNA has maintained a united public front, unlike a substantial group of residents in its greater neighborhood to the south who disagreed so vehemently over the direction the Jefferson Park Neighborhood Association (JPNA) was taking five years ago that it split away and formed a new group called Jefferson Park Forward (JPF). While JPNA’s main goal remains to “move into the next century while maintaining its small-town atmosphere,” JPF aims to “remain open-minded” while “driving positive change” in a “friendly, apolitical environment.” JPF takes on many worthwhile projects for the community, but it stays out of zoning matters and building permit issues, vowing it is “divisive and disruptive” to take a position “in favor or against any specific development proposal.”
Having Gladstone Park’s official neighborhood to the south split into two main camps, one of which remains neutral on future development, definitely has its drawbacks. Not the least of these is the loss of a consolidated community voice in determining what direction Jefferson (and Gladstone) Park will take in the future.
GP Neighborhood Association’s Strategic Plan
Gladstone Parkers are proud and dedicated advocates for their community. They have always loosely worked to protect the community’s assets for those who have lived here for years, for the diverse populations who have more recently arrived, and for those who are yet to come. But recent challenges to their very being has made them realize they have to up their game by endowing the organization that represents them with a clear identity and purpose in order to more thoughtfully and effectively navigate their way forward.
Which is why the Gladstone Park Neighborhood Association (GPNA) conducted a survey on the community’s strengths, weaknesses, threats and opportunities in the spring of 2022 with the goal of developing a strategic plan to help Gladstone Park forge its way most productively into the future.
In response to the open-ended questionnaire, about 50 people contributed their thoughts. A word cloud was employed to tag responses and formulate a weighted list of terms, presenting ideas visually with larger sizes representing the most frequently used.
Although the results are fairly self-explanatory and conformed to a great extent to what was expected, it was eye opening to see vacant business properties identified as by far the biggest weakness in Gladstone Park. Interestingly, vacant storefronts also showed up in the category as offering as the largest opportunity for improvement although how the Neighborhood Association could make that happen is an exercise for further study.
When analyzing what respondents identified as the worst of local problems, it was pointed out they are mostly political in origin. In other words crime, higher density, police coverage, and to some extent vacant properties are Chicago problems and out of the community’s hands to solve by itself. Which is why residents at the meeting concurred that Gladstone Park has to intensify its efforts to be proactive against upzoning and unwanted development as well as lobbying for more police coverage and improvements to the business district regarding vacancies, derelict properties, and the unattractive bumpout planting beds at crosswalks. Aides to Alderman Jim Gardiner who attended the meeting indicated a willingness to follow up on many of the issues with the powers-that-be to help the community out.
President Joe DiCiaula highlighted how he found it ironic that the 20 or so restaurants in the community were regarded as both strengths and weaknesses depending who was rating them. The implication is that more diversification of types of eateries (no ice cream shop! not enough white table restaurants!) is needed to satisfy all tastes. That’s why restaurants also show up on the “opportunities” list with expanded choice making the community a more desirable place to live.
A forum is given for all residents’ concerns at GPNA’s formal meetings on the second Thursday of every other month at 7:00 p.m. in the Kolping Center, 5826 N. Elston. On alternate months residents meet for social dinners at one of the many restaurants in the community in support of its commercial sector.
But perhaps before looking at possibilities on how to maximize the community’s attributes and tackle some of its problems, it would be instructive to more definitively set down where its borders are and who is included.
GLADSTONE PARK: ESTABLISHING TERRITORY
Just because Gladstone Park came into its own so late, that doesn’t mean it can’t, like the U.S. Army, “be all [it] can be.”
First, though, it might make sense for the Gladstone Park Neighborhood Association to evaluate what it claims as its current territory, which includes overlapping areas, contiguous excluded sections and other disputed areas. Right now Gladstone Park is split every which way whether it’s by political wards, school districts, fire departments, U.S. Census Districts, or even its own organizations, a topic discussed in detail in Gladstone Park: Who and Where Is it?
It might be worth noting that the smaller older section of Gladstone Park has for decades been recognized as one of Chicago’s accepted 228 sub-communities. As such, it has for the last 100 years or so been a subset of Jefferson Park, one of 77 “official” neighborhoods used by the city for statistical and political purposes.
However, Gladstone Park’s territory has evolved over time, particularly after the construction of the Kennedy Expressway in the 1950s cut Jefferson Park roughly in half. Currently GPNA defines its borders as a much larger territory north of the Kennedy that’s roughly equal to the area to its south that contains the heart of Jefferson Park with its older commercial downtown, library and park district pool.
Perhaps even more crucial would be determining what Gladstone Park’s population is. Official figures of The Demographic Statistical Atlas of the United States, put the estimated 2016 count at only 1,716 people. But that’s only because it uses the U.S. Census District’s Gladstone Park borders (the triangle created by N. Milwaukee, N. Northwest Highway, and N. Austin), which is probably less than a quarter of how GPNA defines its territory today. But by adding up the “Block Groups” the Atlas breaks the city of Chicago into, Gladstone Park’s population potentially swells to 39,830 people, much more of a force to be reckoned with.
Can Gladstonians help themselves more by redefining or even expanding their borders? Or would it be better to remain fluid as the amorphous northern half of the greater Jefferson Park neighborhood? Or can the community have it both ways?
If a picture is worth a thousand words, it is worth looking at the map where greater Jefferson Park is represented in white. Present GPNA boundaries are drawn in green, containing and omitting many contested areas. Perhaps the greatest of these is the large pink area to the west that is technically outside the greater Jefferson Park neighborhood altogether. Many residents in this section say they live in Norwood Park East, a subcommunity of Norwood Park, while many merchants and restaurant owners identify their N. Milwaukee Avenue businesses that run through the same section as Gladstone Park. Points of contention are discussed in detail below.
- SOUTH: The Gladstone Park Neighborhood Association has traditionally mapped Gladstone Park’s southern boundary as W. Foster. That is, until the City of Chicago itself designated the southern end of Gladstone Park’s N. Milwaukee business corridor as the Kennedy Expressway approximately a block and a half further south. Should the community include this tiny southern triangular piece of land? Should it consider more of the land contiguous to it on the east between N. Central and N. Cicero that’s also cut off from downtown Jefferson Park by the Kennedy (labeled “1” on the map )? How about the Indian Woods subcommunity (the grayed area to the north of section 1) and other nearby sections that people consider to be Forest Glen?
- NORTH: W. Devon “seemed” to become the community’s northern border when CDOT stopped the Gladstone Park Milwaukee Avenue Business Corridor at the heavily-traveled road. However, the houses east of N. Nagle between W. Bryn Mawr and W. Devon (#2 in pink on the map) have traditionally been considered to be Norwood Park East, a subcommunity of Norwood Park. Should GPNA continue including it? If so, should it add the three blocks of restaurants and shops further north of W. Devon on N. Milwaukee to where the Chicago city limits bump up against the suburbs?
- EAST: Perhaps the least disputed boundary is the eastern one along the Cook County Forest Preserve property encompassing the North Branch of the Chicago River. But it is not entirely without controversy with some people in the two-block long section east of N. Elston west of N. Central identifying themselves as belonging to South Edgebrook.
- WEST: The western border along N. Northwest Highway between W. Foster and W. Bryn Mawr north of the Kennedy Expressway (along the Union Pacific rail line) is fairly cut and dried. From there things get confusing. The Kennedy makes a hard turn west for a few blocks to where it meets N. Nagle, creating a triangle of a few blocks on the other side of the rail line that, when on the scene, feels physically cut off (#3 on the map). N. Nagle then forms the remainder of the western border through the pink Norwood Park East section (#2 as discussed under “North.”)
Hard questions should be asked, including:
- Should Gladstone Park continue maintaining its present boundaries? Should it drop any sections? Or would it be more efficient for GPNA to expand to become a larger territory?
- If GPNA continues to include residential and commercial sections in its territory with people who now associate with other communities, would it be worth trying to change their perceptions so that they will want to switch loyalties to identify as Gladstone Parkers?
- Whether GPNA redraws its borders differently or not, would it be practical to investigate starting and/or joining a new coalition or umbrella organization of Far Northwest Side communities and neighborhoods to create a more powerful, united voice? Would this be a more efficacious way to coordinate activities and pool resources?
- Most of all, how can Gladstone Park gain the recognition and status it needs in order for its opinions to be heard and heeded by the powers-that-be? Would an initiative such as Historical Preservation give the community the cachet it needs to gain enough additional respect and recognition so that the community will be taken more seriously by its fellow neighborhoods and the city at large?