I started working with the Friends of West Edgewater Park (FoWEP) on the redevelopment of the Edgewater Medical Center during Specialization Studio for my graduate degree in interior design. Discovering that a neighborhood organization already existed that was mobilizing residents around the Edgewater Medical Center made this building the ideal site for a thesis on community-driven design processes, and so I quickly began to build out a way to develop a multi-phase feedback process with the community.
The residents that make up the Friends of West Edgewater Park have provided me with an incredible environment in which to explore what an inclusive design process can look like on a larger project. They have taken me and my work seriously, and included me as a resident of the surrounding area with an equal voice. Through one-on-one meetings, small focus groups, and on-going email correspondence, the residents have shared their history with me, and articulated the fatigue involved in working to stay abreast of the banks and developers that seem to often only want to include them when it’s convenient.
Over the past year, I have met with FoWEP members in person on six different occasions. Using the amalgamated input I have researched and synthesized, last spring I proposed an initial iteration of this project for my Specialization Studio. This iteration sought to answer to the community’s specific desires and needs through the adaptive reuse of two of the complex’s buildings on the northwest section of the site, as well as providing a mass of open green space where the remaining buildings now stand. Showcasing a range of amenities for the whole community to access, this iteration featured a community health center, gym, pool, community meeting rooms and ground level retail spaces, and was in part designed with the goal of attracting a range of new job opportunities to the neighborhood. However, the heart of this building sought specifically to address the need for affordable housing in the area. And to do this, it was crucial to look at the demographics of the surrounding neighborhoods.
Andersonville, Edgewater and Rogers Park — the neighborhoods that surround the Edgewater Medical Center—make up one of the most diverse areas in the city of Chicago. In terms of socio-economics, religion, race, ethnicity, nationality, language and age, these areas comprise something of a break from the often-unacknowledged segregation that dominates our cityscape. And it is for this reason that many people are drawn to the area. FoWEP’s website explains, “We love our community! It is why we live here and stay here. We love it because it is diverse and tolerant of a variety of lifestyles and people.”
Among those who help make up some of this beautiful array of people are members of LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer) communities. A full spectrum, hailing from all different backgrounds and age groups. For, whereas areas like Lakeview/Boystown are predominantly geared towards young, white, well-off gay men, the areas around the hospital truly have some of everybody on the LGBTQ spectrum, including a lot of women, trans-identified people and many, many queers. Racially and socio-economically as varied as the rest of the area’s population, these community members also run the gamut in terms of age. And so it was that the idea of building an affordable housing center for LGBTQ elders for this project was born.