Saturday's open house wasn't the first that the Lathrop Community Partners orchestrated to receive community input on their controversial redevelopment of Lathrop Homes. We say controversy because of the the day's show of community opposition— folks armed with neon yellow fliers and vehement opinions about affordable housing and tax increases. Held in the New Life Community Church at Damen and Wellington, the meeting offered community residents, or really anyone who was interested, the ability to get a firm handle on plans that are being proposed for the substantial riverfront space currently home to scores of worn-down early public housing buildings from the 1930's. The acreage also includes a senior center and a power house which we were informed will stay in place throughout the redevelopment.
In questioning some of the designers lingering about their favorite elements, they were emphatic that the designs weren't "plans" just a lot of components that the community would decide upon together and amalgamate to create a balanced development. We overheard one particularly unhappy resident say to a developer, "I came [to this] last year, you didn't pay attention to anyone's ideas. The neighborhood is very angry." So much for community based thinking.
The three rough plans involved different levels of reconfiguration and residential development distribution. Entitled "Riverworks", "Gateways" and "Greenscapes", they differed less on their aesthetic choices and more on how they would use the space from a utilitarian point of view. Each plan, nevertheless, features 1600 residential units: 50% market value, 25% affordable housing, and 25% public housing. The differences—and the likeliest source of planning contention—is the amount of historical preservation versus complete refiguration. Gateways is at the center of the spectrum, showing a large high-rise tower towards the south with preservation and reconfiguration of historical buildings. Greenscapes on the other hand favors demolition of historical buildings to capitalize on the space by the river and a building code that wouldn't allow residential spaces to be built higher than the Lathrop Elderly Center. Riverworks preserves the buildings as well as the Great Lawn, but introduces two high-rise residential towers built at each end of the development.
The most agreeable moments in the meeting dealt with green and sustainable design efforts featured in each plan, with all three being LEED Gold certified. We lend our enthusiasm to the ideas of vertical gardening within the Power House, a floating island and swimming hole, and "blue streets" or waterways flowing through the entire development. And we quite liked the way that community connectivity was emphasized in direct conjunction with the river including addition of new roads, parking, and an outdoor room called the Buckle formed by a node of four buildings and allowing for community interaction and retail opportunities.
Lathrop Community Partners will host another meeting, narrowing the plans to two, then one. They are hoping to launch development in March 2013, with completion in a year and a half. To expedite this process, at the end of the presentation we were encouraged (read: kindly forced) to fill out a survey about what elements of the plans we favored, as well as write on cute arrow-shaped sticky notes and plant them on the map referencing the areas of the development we thought really stood out. Despite rising tensions, that's some good ol' fashioned community interaction if we've ever seen it. Or maybe we just really like sticky notes.