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Birding on the West Side

American Goldfinch at Garfield Park

Red-tailed Hawk at Douglas Park

Great-blue Heron at Douglas Park

Eric Gyllenhaal monitors and counts birds in Douglas Park

By Todd Thomas

The West Side of Chicago is fortunate to have three major parks in the area that offer a host of outdoor activities, and among them is bird watching or birding which has become more popular in recent years.
The beauty and importance of birds in these parks is captured, and recorded on a regular basis by Eric Gyllenhaal, a local retired naturalist who spends countless hours roaming the parks observing and counting birds.
The 2023 official spring bird count occurred just a few weeks ago and Gyllenhaal and a host of volunteers counted birds in Douglas, Garfield, Columbus and Riis Parks. They counted 90 species of birds and reported the findings to the online database eBird.
One of the key reasons bird counts are critical to understand birds is that bird populations have plummeted, and over the last 50 years the United States has seen bird populations plummet by the billions – not – millions, but billions.
“Counting birds helps us keep track of how birds are reacting to the changes we are doing to the environment, and there have been some major drops because habitat is disappearing. Counting helps us keep track of the bird population’s changes and try to figure out ways to counteract negative changes that have happened,” explained Gyllenhaal.
After the bird count Gyllenhaal did note that the numbers of one of the area’s major migrants – warblers were lower than expected.
“We’re not at peak migration yet,” Gyllenhaal said a few days after the count. “During peak migration we would expect to find 25 species of warblers in one day, but we only found 18 and there weren’t huge numbers for any warblers.”
Some of the birds that showed up in big numbers in the count were Red-wing Blackbirds, Canada Geese, Herring Gulls, Barn Swallows, Robins and Northern Cardinals. The cardinals are a favorite of many bird enthusiasts, but Gyllenhaal said he doesn’t like one particular bird more than any other.
“I don’t have a favorite bird – I’m interested in all of them. Whatever bird has my attention at that moment that’s where I focus, and when another one comes along that’s where I focus. I don’t like this one better than that one. It’s a holistic approach – I like them all, even the house sparrows,” he said.
All species of birds do stand to benefit from the information garnered from the bird counts, and land managers have been receptive and helpful in using the data to make improvements by helping to restore bird’s natural habitats.
Collecting data on birds is important and having a thriving bird population an important part of a healthy community. The presence of healthy trees, and the birds singing are important in their own right.
“People talk about environmental justice these days especially on the South and West sides of Chicago especially around pollution, but part of environmental justice is living in a neighborhood with enough trees to deal with pollution, and more trees will help bring back the birds as well,” Gyllenhaal said.
The youth in the area can also benefit from more exposure to the natural environment around them. He suggests spending a little more time away from electronic devices and engaging in more outdoor activity.
“Kids are so distracted by online things, screens,laptops and cell phones and there’s so much great natural reality out there that kids aren’t paying attention to. And it’s not just kids, but everyone in the community can benefit from being surrounded by trees and birds,” Gyllenhaal said.
“People are missing something from their lives if they’re not paying attention to nature. It brings beauty and joy – it gets you paying attention to what’s going on around you and it’s an inexpensive way to enjoy your life.”
The mega-festivals that are held in Chicago’s parks also have a negative impact on birds by destroying habitat and deterring them from landing. Gyllenhaal encourages people to help keep them out of the parks.
“Join a group that is trying to get the meg- festivals out of places like Douglas Park and watch who you vote for,” he said.
Gyllenhaal also holds nature-themed events and the next one in North Lawndale will be June 25th at Sunday’s on the Boulevard from 1-4pm. He and his wife will have a Make your Own Nature Museum booth and information and fun activities for the kids.
You can also follow Gyllenhaal and the birds of the West Side on social media. Check out the Nature in Douglas Park (Chicago), and Nature in Columbus Park (Chicago) facebook group pages.

CB Johnson Endorsed for 29th Ward Alderman by Cong. Danny Davis

At a fundraiser for CB Johnson, candidate for 29th Ward Alderman, Cong Davis spoke on his own service and why he is endorsing Johnson.

C.B. Johnson, CEO of Campaign for a Drug Free Westside is going for another run at the 29th Ward Aldermanic seat. He ran back in 2011 and 2019. Congressman Danny Davis who lives in the 29th Ward has endorsed CB Johnson for the new 29th Ward Aldermanic seat. Davis made the announcement on January 14.
There are currently three candidates on the ballot for that seat. They are current Ald. Chris Taliaferro, CB Johnson, and Corey Dooley. Since 1999, Johnson has been the CEO of the Campaign for a Drug Free West Side, helping to resolve major problems of people impacted by drug use.

CB held a fundraiser at his campaign office where Cong Davis was there to give reasons for endorsing Johnson. “I like people who go out and organize the community, be engaged and be involved. People who come up with stuff and do stuff. CB’s that kind of guy,” said Congressman Davis. … “and that is one of the things that elected officials need to do,” said Davis. Davis and some of his staff are residents in the 29th Ward. The ward consists of parts of six communities, Austin, and the other five (just north and west of Austin), Galewood, Belmont, Cragin, Dunning and Montclare.

Stated CB, “The Alderman’s job is a thankless job. It’s a part-time job. But I will be a fulltime Alderman. The best thing that you dan do is care about someone else. ….I don’t know what the other camp is doing but we can outwork them. I will work every single day. I will be someone working for what is in the best interest of the people they represent.”
Early voting starts from March 20 through Election Day on Tuesday April 4.

Alderman ChrisTaliaferro endorsed by local clergy

Pastors John Harrell, Marshall Hatch Sr., Steve Spiller ,and Leon Miller gave statements of support for Chris Taliaferro to be re-elected as Alderman of the 29th Ward. Also assisting Taliaferro as his Campaign manager is retired Water Reclamation Commissioner Barbara McGowan.

Rev Ira Acree, pastor of Greater St. John Bible Church located at 1256 N Waller Ave, Chicago hosted a clergy for Taliaferro Lunch Program.

The Montclare Supportive Living Community – Superbowl

The Montclare Supportive Living Community – November Black Fridays

ABLA tenants, Bethel Church, and activists against CHA land lease 20 years ago, CHA forced tenants out promised to rebuild affordable housing


20 years ago, CHA forced tenants out, promised to rebuild affordable housing

On Sunday October 2, 2022, the Bethel Mennonite Community Church hosted a meeting with ABLA housing residents, and Affordable Housing Activists to discuss CHA’s (Chicago Housing Authority) obligation to build housing for ABLA residents. A decision by the CHA and the City of Chicago to lease, now vacant land to the Chicago Fire Soccer team for a training facility was the reason for the meeting.
It still needs final approval from HUD. But the group hopes to stop the process because of a reversal of the city council zoning committee as stated by Bethel’s Pastor Tony Bianchi. Pastor Bianchi said, “Six years, ago we submitted a proposal to be given a chance to build affordable housing that was needed at ABLA. During the time the previous CHA head left and the city’s administration changed. We found out they wanted to rezone the area for a training facility.. The plan we submitted also created highly skilled employment training in robotics.” The group also said more affordable housing would be a better economic boom for the area along with market rate tenants they would have economic spending needs. “The projected economic impact equals $5 billion dollars of shopping dollars vs building some grass where about 80 people come twice a week about $200,000, They just want the tax credits” said Bethel consultant Derric Price.
According to the group the CHA has used unscrupulous tactics, where it promised build affordable housing but hasn’t deliver.
As reported by Pro Publica, an independent, nonprofit newsroom that produces investigative journalism, “thousands of families were forced to move out of the ABLA Homes public housing complex two decades ago, Chicago and federal leaders promised they would be able to come back to new housing and a revitalized community on the city’s Near West Side.”
Once populated with 17,000 residents, spanning from Cabrini Street on the north end to 15th Street on the south end, and from Blue Island Avenue on the east end to Ashland Avenue on the west end, It was the 2nd largest 2nd largest housing project next to Robert Taylor and Cabrini-Green and more occupants than Cabrini-Green. “It now has only about 300 units, stated Dr. Derrick Price consultant for the group. It is estimated over 700 residents live there now. In a CHA report from 2019, 1153 ABLA families (not including Loomis Courts) have a right of return with 63% having been satisfied.
The residents, the church, and affordable housing activists are aggravated because CHA had promised to restore affordable housing to the land and now have reversed their promise. There are also accusations of a shady process. The city council first denied the project for the soccer training facility in a city council zoning committee meeting. But that was soon reversed with several aldermen switching their votes in a subsequent meeting the next day just 30 minutes before the general city council meeting. Even Ald Beale who isn’t opposed to the plan but stated about the process, “Yesterday this item was voted down in committee, just yesterday. So why do we have a committee, if we recess, reconvene, to circumvent the vote that happened yesterday?”
Stated Derrick Price, the CHA was supposed to contact the residents and the community in general that is impacted. But that there were targeted meetings a selected few who were notified.
The sale of housing land for a soccer field is not the highest and best use of the site, it’s 100% fraud and unconscionable according to Derric Price, President of African American Community Trust, the strategic think tank for community financial empowerment.
“This is a Backroom Mayor Lightfoot’s Deal, and it’s not necessary, because the city has other land to cut grass for a soccer training field, instead of giving away housing land. The Chicago Fire soccer is paying pennies per foot for the land, and building the training center office with taxpayer’s money, it’s unbelievable,” stated Mr. Price.
“The next generation must be taught what “evil public servant actions” look like. It’s not just the Mayor Lightfoot, actions, but Alderman Jason Irving, Billionaire Joe Mansueto, and employees at his company Morningstar, and the players of Chicago Fire, they are all participating in this evil political and money stunt.
The Millennials and Generation Z must be taught that Freedom is not free, that we must fight to build decent neighborhoods and housing. Unfortunately, we must still fight the petty money-hungry, political bought and sell-out Negro elite,” stated Mr. Price.
A training field, instead of giving away housing land. The Chicago Fire soccer is paying pennies per foot for the land, and building the training center office with taxpayer’s money, it’s unbelievable,” stated Mr. Price.
Congressman Danny Davis brokered several meeting between CHA, the ABLA residents, and the Bethel Mennonite Bethel Church, and affordable housing activists. Stated the Congressman “ I really tried to work an agreement between the City of Chicago and the Bethel Mennonite church and ABLA tenants, and community housing activists. When I became awhere of the conflict we set up meetings between the Mennonite church and the Chicago Housing Authority to see if we couldn’t get some agreement to where they both could be what they wanted to be. Then the CHA maintains the city, owns the land. It the CHA’s property but the CHA is the city. Whatever is going to happen its not going to happen unless both want it to happen.” He also said HUD (US Housing and Urban Development) said it wasn’t there decision to make. His last meeting with both entities the Congressman tried to broker an agreement where both developments could find appropriate land and where the church could build affordable housing.
Mary Rush who has been an ABLA resident for over 50 years said, “There needs to be a change. I am running for President of the Local Advisory Council (LAC) of the ABLA CHA for the residents that want housing back in the neighborhood. All of my children were born over here. I want to hold CHA accountable for bringing our houses back. I was fortunate enough to have the right to return. There are others out there that don’t. There are seniors here that have been here for over 60 years out there that deserve a home. I am running to get our homes back not give it away.”
Emma Arnold is a lifelong ABLA resident. She is running for office as a vice-president of the LAC. She feels having lived in the ABLA homes all her life qualifies her to represent the others that are living their and those who want to return but can’t because of the affordable housing shortage at ABLA homes.
Bethel Mennonite Community Church are hosting community townhalls on the issue every Sunday at 3:00 pm. They are asking ABLA residents and supporters who believe and want to fight for affordable housing to help in the fight. The church is located at 1434 S Laflin Street.

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