Sunnyside Mall project adds spark to Uptown


Courtesy Sunnyside Mall Committee

Residents attended a movie night put on by the Sunnyside Mall Committee over the summer. 

By Arts & Culture reporter

Some longtime Uptown residents are working to bring unity and culture to one of Chicago’s most diverse neighborhoods.

Starting with a “tactical urbanism” installation—the practice of making low-cost, temporary changes to an existing environment to improve a local neighborhood—titled “Pure Imagination,” on Aug. 27, members of the Uptown communities began to envision what would become of Sunnyside Mall, a stretch of walkway from Malden to Magnolia Avenues.

The Sunnyside Mall area was identified by Alderman James Cappleman (46th ward) in his 2013 “Master Plan” as an area of interest and possible improvement within the ward. 

Within the plan, Cappleman laid out plans to add plants and a watering system to the mall, use the area as a potential showcase for public art and set up block meetings to encourage volunteer funding and cooperation on the project. According to the report, there is currently a shortage of funds to accomplish their goals.

“[The community meeting] was meant to be a kickoff to a larger, grander vision for the mall space and what we could maybe do down the road more permanently,” said Brett Weidl, founder of Uptown Chicago Moms and member of the Sunnyside Mall Committee.

Though the long-term vision for the area is unclear, Weidl and Julianne Scherer—founder of the SMC—hope the area will become a center for positive community activity and programming.

To ensure the area is supported by the entire  neighborhood, residents of  the area were invited to voice their opinions and visions for the space at an Aug. 29 community involvement meeting, at which Scherer said the committee garnered many ideas for the future of the Sunnyside Mall.

“The majority of things we received were related [to] a yearly event calendar, so there would be a constant use of the space … ranging from seasonal events such as Halloween events … [to] a farmer’s market occasionally.”

Scherer added that the committee hopes to expand on its successes, pointing out that approximately 60 people attended the movie night that took place earlier this summer. The mall has also played host to a successful arts festival for the last three years.

With ideas such as focused lighting or dog plots, Scherer hopes to “design out the crime” and replace it with positive use of the area, which has experienced an increase in violent crimes since  last summer.

Joanne Gannett, an adjunct professor in the Art & Art History Department, has lived in Uptown since the 1980s and said creating a family-centric and community-driven environment is another key to eliminating the neighborhoods violent reputation.

With Courtenay Language Arts Center nearby and the rich diversity of the area, Gannett said she believes activities like community gardens or block parties will allow interaction among different demographics and create a space that invites families to lay down roots and raise a family—like Gannett and her family did in 1987.

“We moved here because we loved the diversity … and we wanted to expose our kids to the fact that the world is made up of all sorts of people,” Gannett said. “I think, in general, everyone who lives in Uptown has a lot of energy [because of the diversity].”

Gannett said the issue of violence in the area is complicated and nuanced, but she thinks it is important to allow children to find joy and community in the diversity of their Uptown neighbors, and embrace the culture and quirkiness this  diversity embodies.

Also under consideration is specific areas for children  to play, create memories, and connect with other community members, 

“Kids love the space. That’s the kind of thing we want to see more often and facilitate,” Weidl said.

A direct course of action for making the area kid-friendly is not decided, but many ideas have been suggested, such as painting designated areas for games such as four square, Scherer said.

An inspiration for all the plans is the legacy of Jane Addams’s Hull House, formerly at 4520 N. Beacon Ave., which is  now the site of a condominium. In the early 1900s, the Hull House provided social services for newly arrived European immigrants.

Addams’s sense of mission is something the Sunnyside Mall Committee  members said they are aiming for in their work as well. 

“We would like to see how we could bring continuity to Uptown and the way this space connects to the larger area[such as Ravenswood or Lincoln Square],” Scherer said. “[We’re asking ourselves], ‘How do you make these interconnections or create bigger dialogues between some of these bigger  spaces?’”

 Learn more about the project at, where residents can submit suggestions for the space, as well as check on updates on the committee’s happenings.