Residents Create A Vision For Niles' Future
Community members put down on paper their hopes for what village could be in 2030.
Robert Poptile, 12, was at the Niles Senior Center with a mission. He and three of his friends had come to request that the village build a new skatepark.
Poptile and his friends were able to make their voices heard, along with about 80 other concerned residents, at a visioning workshop Thursday that was one of the preliminary steps in revamping Niles' nearly 40-year-old comprehensive plan.
The workshop was led by John Houseal, one of the owners of Houseal Lavigne Associates, the consulting firm hired to come up with a new plan for the village. He started the meeting by splitting everyone into 10 groups, forcing residents to mix it up and interact outside their familial or neighborhood cliques.
"Comprehensive planning can't be myopically focused on one neighborhood," Houseal said. "You also have good ideas about the community at large. The hope is that some consensus will be built here, and maybe some ideas will emerge we didn't anticipate."
One gentleman raised his hand and questioned how residents from different neighborhoods could possibly hope to have their specific problems solved.
"There may be people in these groups who vehemently disagree with another person's beliefs; hey, welcome to community planning," Houseal said, eliciting a laugh from the audience. "One of the key things about thinking about changing your community is stepping outside your own shoes to view your community as a whole."
At Table Four, Poptile got his chance to lobby for a more skateboard-friendly environment.
"I think Niles needs another skatepark," Poptile said. "My friends and I came to the meeting to make skateparks and keep kids out of trouble. I only know of two skateparks in Niles."
Luckily for him, Poptile had Mayor Bob Callero's ear. He sat to the mayor's left.
"I appreciate your comment, but I'll just throw this out there: Skateparks are expensive because of insurance," Callero said.
The presence of Poptile and his three friends was not lost on the organizers.
"I keep imagining you telling your mom you were at a community meeting, and she says, 'No, tell me the truth!'" joked Courtney Owen, a senior associate at Houseal Lavigne and the project manager for Niles' new comprehensive plan.
Owen cleverly planted the meeting details on a Facebook page about building more skateparks in the area. It brought Poptile and his friends out of the woodwork. Their ideas were mentioned at at least four of the tables.
But the meeting delved beyond the requests for more parks. Owen said the opinions voiced Thursday would be compiled into a report she will write in the voice of residents from the future.
"The next step is to create a vision statement, which will be crafted as a retrospective from 20 years in the future to talk about what has changed," Owen said.
She added that the Comprehensive Plan was last revised in 1972, even though the typical shelf life for such plans is only 10 to 15 years.
"That plan called for a central business district, and still you hear people talking about that 40 years later," she said.
The vision statement will be developed into a group of goals and objectives, which Houseal Lavigne Associates will use to make recommendations about the village's policies and plans. Those suggestions—if Niles leadership adopts them—will become the village's new comprehensive plan.
Back at Table Four, residents were tossing opinions around in a flurry. A map of Niles was spread out before them, and Callero was diligently taking notes from a brainstorming session about everything from streets to transportation to parks to the village's image and identity.
"You know, we could use more street lights," said Adam Zalak, a resident since 1964. "Those that we have are really dark."
"I think the other thing we're missing is a year-round pool for lap swimmers," Rosemary Palicki said. She also suggested a driving range for golfers.
"If there's a driving range, I think it should be private," Dave Hope said. "I don't think municipalities should be competing with private business. I think it's more efficient when run privately, and I don't want to see it become subsidized just to keep it open."
Palicki added she would like to see the development of a city center, possibly at Golf Mill. "We have nothing but concrete and cars," she said.
At the end of the workshop, a spokesperson from each table stood and summarized some of their ideas:
- An arch over Milwaukee Avenue, welcoming visitors and highlighting awards Niles has won for being an All-American city and a good place to raise kids.
- Changes in traffic flow on busy streets: more stoplights some places, fewer in others
- Canoe rental facilities on the river
- Signs commemorating the various fraternal organizations in the village
- Public gardens for reading, yoga or other exercise
- Bike paths
- Bridges so pedestrians can cross over some of the busier roads
- Updating the bus system with GPS
- More culture: theater, arts.
To see these ideas (and others) in context, visit www.hlplanning.com/niles.If you missed Thursday's meeting, you can also make your voice heard by participating in an online version of the workshop at the site.