Tuesday night at El Progreso Hall on the near West Side, volunteers with the local chapter of Latinos in Architecture (LiA) showed 50 or so community members two design concepts for Plaza Guadalupe—one with a fence surrounding it, the other without.
LiA discussed the possibility of having a fence that would “soften the edges” facing El Paso Street, which faces the neighborhood behind the plaza, and having a see-through fence facing the busier, more commercial Guadalupe Street, so passersby could see events or activities happening inside. It’s ultimately up to city officials and District 5 Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales to decide.
Other recommendations were gleaned from feedback community members gave at four previous meetings. For example, they recommended the Avenida Guadalupe Association, which leases the plaza from the city, involve the community in cleaning the plaza daily. They suggested users advocate for more funding for the plaza.
Programming should run the gamut from flea markets on the weekends to substance abuse education programs to live music, they said.
They also recommended access to the restroom be improved for wheelchair-bound users, and that the restrooms themselves be upgraded. More signage, shade at the center of the plaza, and improved seating should be added, they said.
While presenting all concepts, LIA emphasized wanting to ensure the plaza be a fun space.
The group will submit its plans to the city, and the Center City Development and Operations Department (CCDO) and Councilwoman Gonzales’ office will look over the plans, and review feedback gathered at the public meetings this year, in January. But no timetable beyond that has been worked out, CCDO Interim Assistant Director Veronica Garcia said.
Gonzales told attendees she preferred some type fence or landscaping around the plaza—something not too imposing. She was particularly adamant about putting up a fence around the playground, and said other more basic upgrades should also happen as soon as possible.
“There’s no need to delay on bathrooms and lighting,” Gonzales told the room.
The city has about $300,000 in Community Development Block Grant funds allocated for Plaza Guadalupe.
She suggested the city consider redesigning the plaza as a way to avoid having a fence—a $1-$2 million type of project that could potentially be funded in the next bond program.
“I won’t be here for your next bond,” Gonzales said. “If we start it, it will more than likely be moved on by whoever replaces me in the next two years.”
After LiA’s presentation, the meeting broke into small discussion groups, which were to be lead by questions handed out on comment cards. Some groups followed the format, others had more open discussion as some attendees peppered LiA members about the plans’ specifics, and the overall process involving the city.
“People who don’t know the neighborhood see the fence and think it’s a bad neighborhood,” Brenda Gomez, 44, said.
There were seven discussion groups, each consisting of five to eight people. Almost every single group member agreed that there should be no fence at all, but some were willing to compromise to have a fence around the playground for the children.
Yolanda Sosa, 69, said she was for the fence because it would allow the plaza to stay safe and clean — especially for the children.
“A fence isn’t going to take (the issues) away, but it will help,” said Sosa.
The Avenida Guadalupe Association erected the fence around Plaza Guadalupe in August 2016 as a way to deter drug and prostitution activity.
The public discussions about Plaza Guadalupe’s future began in April after some community members, lead by the Esperanza Peace & Justice Center, criticized the 24/7 fence. The city eventually opened up the plaza 10 a.m.to 6 p.m. daily, and began hosting movie nights, as a way to activate the park immediately.
The next one is “The Polar Express,” which will be screened 7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 21, at Plaza Guadalupe, 1327 Guadalupe St.