McKinley Park Deserves To Be in a Single Ward

Published March 9, 2021

Justin Kerr portrait November2020Justin Kerr is the publisher of the McKinley Park News.This year, one of the most consequential civic decisions will befall the McKinley Park neighborhood and communities across the country: political redistricting based on the upcoming counts from the 2020 U.S. Census. At our neighborhood level, this impacts McKinley Park’s access to and standing within Chicago city government, deciding who will represent us within the 50 wards into which Chicago is divided under edict of state law.

Ward boundaries change every 10 years with new census numbers, redrawing the map for who represents which parts of our neighborhoods. Thanks to selfish gerrymandering, Chicago ward maps have neither represented our neighborhood well, nor do their ridiculous, irregular, ever-changing boundaries make any sense beyond servitude to political ambition.

Right now in McKinley Park, our neighborhood mostly lies in the 12th Ward, with a chunk of industrial area south of West 35th Street and east of South Ashland Avenue falling into the 11th Ward. Snippets of the 25th Ward spread south of the I-55 expressway to touch the corner of Hoyne Park and occupy the Target store, the Ashland El stop, and other blocks on the north end of the neighborhood.

McKinley Park Chicago Ward boundaries mapA screen capture from the City of Chicago's interactive ward map shows how the 12th Ward (in pink), the 11th Ward (in orange) and the 25th Ward (in blue) all overlay the McKinley Park neighborhood.

The 11th Ward’s Toilet

The previous ward map used to be significantly different. Until updated with numbers from the 2010 census, the map had McKinley Park mostly occupied by the 11th Ward: everything east of South Western Avenue except for a chunk of the northwest corner. This and the sliver west of Western then fell into the 12th Ward.

Vacant Storefronts 2000 block West 35th St 20210309Vacant, dilapidated and underutilized storefronts on 35th Street show the destructive heritage of downzoning.During their reign over McKinley Park, the Bridgeport neighborhood-based elected officials of the 11th Ward and their political relations have inflicted enormous damage, using our neighborhood as the dumping ground for their greasy profiteering and bad urban planning.

The 35th Street retail corridor, which should be a bustling, thriving, pedestrian-centric commercial stretch, had a knife stabbed through its heart via down-zoning by former 11th Ward Alderman James Balcer. Vacant and underutilized storefronts still outnumber operating businesses on most stretches of 35th Street.

Blight for Thee, Not for Me

The mouldering, unsecured ruins of the former Wrigley factory at South Ashland Avenue and West 35th Street were an urban blight on our neighborhood for more than a decade, thanks to the bad deal-making of former Mayor Richard M. Daley. His worthless “handshake agreement” with Wrigley Co. to keep the factory in return for their fancy new Goose Island corporate HQ is as sloppy and pathetic as it has been harmful to us.

The past triple-billing of Chicago taxpayers for Planned Manufacturing District property tax appeals from the law firm of current 11th Ward Alderman Patrick D. Thompson is well-known, thanks to reporting in the Chicago Sun-Times and elsewhere. Cries about his and the 11th Ward’s lack of engagement – even after direct entreaties – have regularly rung forth at past McKinley Park Civic Association meetings.

This story is repeating itself in the obvious and ever-expanding graffiti across the historic Continental Can Company building at Ashland and West Pershing Road in the East District of the Central Manufacturing District (CMD). This neglect, lack of care and dearth of civic attention is exactly what McKinley Park has come to expect from the 11th Ward.

Edge Cases

Previous Ward Map McKinley Park Chicago 2002 2012The previous ward map (circa 2002-2012) had most of McKinley Park within the 11th Ward.It’s often at poorly considered borders between wards where many issues and community concerns arise, such as when setting boundaries to match different areas of land use like residential next to industrial. We see this on the east and west sides of Ashland Avenue in McKinley Park, and in the brouhaha of Cougle Foods relocating across the river from the Park 571 boathouse.

Deadly consequences can also arise through criminal activity finding a home in neglected and distant tendrils of a ward. The summer 2019 gang-related slaying across from Everett Elementary School took place right on a ward edge and inspired the very first 25th Ward visit in recent memory to our neighborhood’s CAPS Beat 912 community policing group.

We know that one of the best weapons against neighborhood gang activity is attention from the ward office to leverage legal tools like the Problem Building designation against property owners. How can any city council representative manage complex community situations like this for isolated, far-flung cul-de-sacs in their ward?

Politics Before Governance

Besides practical concerns, a neighborhood faces very real disadvantages when needing to unify and advocate across multiple wards. Subdividing a neighborhood adds great cost to advocacy, something activists in the Englewood neighborhood have dubbed “disenfranchisement by design” regarding Englewood’s five different wards.

As is Chicago’s sad tradition, the process of drawing ward boundaries is mostly opaque and absent much community involvement. Alderwomen and aldermen have until December 1, 2021, to pull together at least 41 out of 50 votes to support a new ward map that they’ll negotiate and draw between themselves.

Continental Can Company East District Central Manufacturing District 20210309A crust of graffiti is slowly spreading across the vacant Continental Can Company building, just as it did with the former Wrigley factory (a site that was also owned by Avgeris and Associates).Any group of 10 or more that objects has to quickly submit their own map within 15 days, and the remapping then moves to a public referendum. Absent delay from legal challenges (which almost always happen), the new maps would take effect for the next municipal election on February 28, 2023.

Incumbent Self-Interest

As one might imagine, this system heavily favors incumbents, as they are able to pick their own voters, with the caveat that they have to negotiate with their fellow alderpeople and caucuses to carve up the electoral vote pie. One can only imagine the horse-trading in “smoke-filled rooms” that must occur.

In addition to critical residential areas needed for votes, it’s easy to see how city council members might be motivated for or against including specific urban areas in their ward. For example, here in McKinley Park, 12th Ward Alderman George Cardenas’ political opponents have weaponized the MAT Asphalt development against him. Were MAT Asphalt no longer in the 12th Ward, it might likely not be as useful a political cudgel.

Communities of Interest

Right now, the only legal requirements for ward maps are that wards be compact, contiguous and substantially equal in population. As advocated by the government reform group CHANGE Illinois, a better standard to define ward boundaries would be “communities of interest.”

Central Manufacturing District tour 20180223 Building Corner Skyline forwebThe Chicago skyline peeks over the corner of one of the vacant warehouse buildings of the Central Manufacturing District.McKinley Park clearly comprises its own, distinct community of interest, for a host of reasons. We are one of Chicago’s 77 official community areas, with over 100 years of history behind our identity and our namesake park. We are one of the most geographically distinct neighborhoods in Chicago, with natural and man-made impasses defining borders on all sides and supporting just a handful of routes into and out of our neighborhood.

The recently released McKinley Park Neighborhood Plan from the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) specifically defines our neighborhood as a distinct community of interest. More than a half-dozen active and long-serving community groups also brand themselves with “McKinley Park” in their names, joined by the many other local organizations that are based in and explicitly serve our neighborhood.

Include the CMD

The historic Central Manufacturing District along Pershing Road should be considered part of the McKinley Park neighborhood and included within the same ward. Although the CMD officially falls within the New City Community Area, it fronts the park itself, and there’s no access to it except through McKinley Park.

CMAP also includes the CMD as part of its McKinley Park Neighborhood Plan study area and notes the intimate relationship between it and the neighborhood, especially community concern about new industrial development there. The neighborhood most impacted by the CMD is McKinley Park, and vice-versa.

Advocate for Change

tax sale sign bullet holes vacant storefront West 35th St 20210309A tax sale sign and bullet holes adorn the front entrance of an abandoned 35th Street storefront.Unfortunately, nothing will ensure that new ward boundaries prioritize the purpose of good governance of McKinley Park and other Chicago neighborhoods, especially for this year’s ward remap. A recent online seminar presented by the 11th Ward Independent Political Organization (IPO), the 25th Ward IPO and CHANGE Illinois recommended residents engage in general advocacy to designate their community area, and use tools like the We Draw the Lines project on to define and submit their community area of interest.

There is no politically unselfish reason why the McKinley Park Community Area and the Central Manufacturing District should not be entirely contained within a single ward. Our modest footprint in both neighborhood population and land area should allow us to easily accommodate requirements.

Keeping McKinley Park within a single ward is the best thing for our residents and enterprises, and offers the highest prospects for a safe and thriving neighborhood. We call upon the Chicago City Council to keep McKinley Park and the Central Manufacturing District in a single ward, and look to develop more effective and representative methods of civic governance for ward remapping in the future.

The online seminar from the 11th Ward IPO, the 25th Ward IPO and Change Illinois presents information on Chicago ward redistricting.

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