Civiltech is providing urban design and roadway design services for streetscape and safety improvements along Chicago Avenue from Austin to Cicero. This Chicago Department of Transportation project is intended to spur economic development within the “Soul City Corridor” in the Austin neighborhood.

As part of this project, Civiltech has been working with Territory NFP. Territory is a design-based creative youth development organization, providing skill-building programs in urban design, public art, and community planning for young people ages 14-21. Using the studio-apprentice model, young people gain essential problem solving tools and learn how to direct themselves and lead others through design projects addressing real needs on site in their own communities.

Lamar Johnson Collaborative (LJC) is also supporting the project by bringing a strong understanding of the community, assisting with community engagement, and providing a fresh vision for streetscape design ideas. Together, LJC along with Territory are helping ensure that the youth also serve as a community voice for the corridor development.

Civiltech and LJC have been working with Territory on the design of circular benches along the corridor they are calling Peace Circles. Territory has been involved in the design and layout of the benches and their latest task is to help develop artwork, which will installed on the backs of the benches. The Peace Circles are part of the overall placemaking design for the corridor, along with other streetscape furnishings.

A Peace Circle is a series of benches located in a circular or inward facing arrangement. They usually include four benches with backs of varying heights to encourage different types of gathering. The purpose of the Peace Circles is to foster interpersonal communication and collaboration. This is especially meaningful for the community’s youth as the corridor hasn’t always felt safe or provided areas for youth to congregate.

In addition to determining locations for the Peace Circles, some of the youth have been involved in creating mock-ups of the physical benches. Now, members of the group are involved in determining the artwork for the bench backs. Each member involved with the project was given the opportunity to design and determine a themed piece of art. The team produced a wide variety of ideas including themes such as the history of the Austin neighborhood, Black Lives Matter, Love/Peace motifs, and more. The project team is working to install Territory’s art directly on the benches without having to use a third party artist.

Civiltech’s Project Manager, Brandon Bogenschutz, P.E., has been involved in meetings with the group and coordinating their work into the project. Brandon said, “It is exciting to see how passionate the group is about the project, and they are bringing really good ideas to help support their community and personalize the corridor improvement for their own use.”

The revitalization will help the Chicago Avenue corridor become a gateway to the City and a shopping destination for both City and suburban residents. The project takes a holistic design approach to the corridor improvements to establish a community identity and make Chicago Avenue a place for people. Central to that approach has been intensive community involvement with public meetings, workshops, and other stakeholder touch points to gather feedback and help establish buy-in from the community. Civiltech is thrilled to be working with the outstanding youth of Territory NFP in this effort bringing their fresh perspective and innovative thinking to the project and the community.