An artist’s rendering courtesy of Hammersley Architecture shows a potential sculpture connecting Galewood and Oak Park, which comprise the North Avenue District. A non-profit, The North Avenue District, Inc., includes the rendering at the top of its Facebook page — a visual reminder of its goal of connecting and developing communities in the North Avenue District.

Two Municipalities, One Voice: Non-profit Gives Stakeholders Say in Development

From new residential development to public art, The North Avenue District, Inc., a non-profit in Illinois’ Metropolitan Chicago Area, is ensuring everyone has a say in their community.

The North Avenue District comprises part of North Avenue, a four-lane state highway.

North Avenue intersects Galewood and Oak Park. Galewood is a neighbourhood in Chicago. Oak Park is a suburb that borders Galewood to the south.

Judith Alexander, the non-profit’s chair, says the North Avenue District, Inc. includes businesses, property owners and residents.

While each community has unique interests and needs, “our yardstick is what’s best for the district as a whole, and it’s usually not difficult to determine,” Judith says.

“Businesses in our district understand very well that if you’re on the Oak Park side, good things happening on the Chicago side benefit everybody — the Oak Park side and the Chicago side,” she says.


“In my opinion, the most effective street art that establishes a district spans the street, … That’s especially the case for us because we’re spanning two municipalities.”

— Judith Alexander


“And, good things on the Chicago side benefit both sides as well,” Judith added. “In other words, they understand it’s one district.”

The North Avenue District, Inc. won a planning grant from the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP). Judith says this enabled a 2019 revitalization plan which included a number of recommendations.

“One key recommendation was to pursue residential development as a primary driver of revitalization,” Judith says.

Now, the district has three new residential projects, with four more projects planned or under construction.

“Our continuous promotion of the district has helped attract projects,” Judith says. “For every single one, we’ve helped them get approvals from plan commissions, zoning boards of appeals and the city council or village board.”

The North Avenue District is also a mediator, implementing resident ideas and strengthening plans. People can share their opinions during meetings in the early stages of project development.

When a new bank came to North Avenue, “we worked with [Oak Park] to broker a compromise, and it ended up being a much better project,” Judith says. “For example, there’s landscaping at the rear of that lot, between the lot and the alley, that wasn’t in the original plan.”

Businesses and restaurants are important sources of revenue for the district.

Of the six strip malls in the district, Judith says several are almost fully occupied. Although a few restaurants closed during the COVID-19 pandemic, “one has reopened and the rest of those spaces have been re-occupied by a new restaurant, with just one exception,” she says.

Judith added that new restaurants are doing well, and one restaurant is expanding.

The North Avenue District sponsored an incentive where people could submit their receipts after spending at least $10 at district businesses for a chance to win $100.

The North Avenue District frequently updates supporters through an e-newsletter and on social media, including posts about special events at local businesses and restaurants, and information on accessing local, state and federal funding.

Judith says the e-newsletter and social media posts reach thousands of people.

Because The North Avenue District is an organization of stakeholders — business and property owners and residents — “we can promote our businesses more effectively, because we reach prospective customers in a way a business association does not,” Judith says.

As a non-profit, The North Avenue District also searches for grants and funds projects such as public art.

Envisioning the district’s future, Judith says she sees “a lively street where people walk as well as drive and park.”

Goals include a unified streetscape with ornamental lighting, landscaping, and curb extensions making it easier for people to cross the street.

A mural at a children’s museum is bringing that future closer to reality, with more public art — including more murals and temporary art installations in vacant storefronts — planned.

Street art, such as parallel murals in Oak Park and Galewood featuring prominent residents from each community, could be a way to create a sense of cohesion, Judith says, especially in the eastern third of the district, which has the most opportunities for development.

“In my opinion, the most effective street art that establishes a district spans the street,” she says. “That’s especially the case for us because we’re spanning two municipalities.”

The North Avenue District is a member of Austin Coming Together, a network of more than 50 non-profits and businesses that are working toward revitalization in Austin, a community area in Chicago which includes the Galewood neighbourhood.

Judith says a thriving district, especially along its eastern third, can be connected to increasing economic and social opportunities in Austin.

“If we are successful in revitalizing that eastern section, then it is our ambition to take the development momentum and move it east,” she says.