BY MEGHAN STREIT
As an architect for Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, Greg Brewer has 20 years of experience coordinating large projects. He hopes to build on his project management skills to design a new blueprint for his neighborhood. Brewer says it's time for a change in the 50th Ward, and he says he wants to see more professionalism and accountability in city services and local government.
Windy City Times: You're an architect running for city council, which is an interesting transition. Tell me about your decision to run.
Greg Brewer: What I realized is that it's not so different. My experience and the architect's outlook is really very well-suited to the role of an alderman, especially now to the 50th Ward, which is starting to face many of the challenges that other parts of the city have dealt with, such as pressures from development, condo conversions, tear-downs and all of the things that can dramatically change the character of the neighborhood.
So as I have lived here—and over the last six years have become more involved in the local community—I've really looked for ways to become a real part of this community. I looked at the way changes were done, that we had no comprehensive plan, no leadership for the future, and I saw these as critical issues for our neighborhood is the coming years, and I started working very actively on these things.
More specifically, on zoning and development issues, there's a proposed project at Rockwell and Devon that seemed to me to be the worst of everything in one, a development that was totally out of scale with everything around it on Devon. That would be a real disaster for the community, but because the alderman wanted it and was pushing it through, he was able to really manipulate the system to throw out all of the zoning guidelines, and despite many valid objections, he continued to push it through the system.
WCT: You mentioned the parking and retail structure at Rockwell and Devon, which you oppose. What do you think is the solution to the parking crunch in the 50th Ward?
GB: As far as finding a solution to that, it requires sitting down and meeting with people and doing the work. First, the Chamber of Commerce commissioned a parking study years ago, and the alderman ignored the recommendations that were in that. A number of really simple measures could create as much new parking as a parking structure without using so many city resources and taxpayer dollars.
The thing it has in common with so many other decisions the alderman makes is that it's looking for the easiest solution—one person who can fix the problem—instead of getting out and meeting with the chamber of commerce, the residents [ and ] the business owners, and finding the best solutions.
WCT: What do you think are some of the other pressing problems in the 50th ward and the whole city that you'd like to work on?
GB: To start with, we simply need to open up the process and be more inclusive and more accountable. Again, that can be some really simple things, like [ having ] regular town hall meetings, a real Web site that has real information on it [ or ] a quarterly ward newsletter—what seem like simple common-sense things to keep people informed and try to get them involved.
We're also seeing many of the things that are citywide issues: trying to preserve affordable rental housing, creating new affordable housing, the bad renovations, the work without permits and tenants being treated unfairly.
Of course, economic development [ in some areas have ] been in decline for some time. People recognize that, and a lot of it is neglect on the part of the city not providing services and infrastructure maintenance. The city needs to do its part so that businesses can do their work and be successful.
WCT: Where do you stand on same-sex marriage?
GB: I'm in support of it. While you say it's not necessarily an issue for the city council, I think some big steps like that are achieved through a lot of incremental steps, whether it's providing benefits for partners and starting to treat them equal with married partnerships. You start with what you can do at the local level, and build that up, and certainly be supportive when it comes up at the state or national level.
WCT: Another issue that remains important to the LGBT community is funding for HIV prevention and treatment. What do you think we could improve in that area?
GB: I think we need to put the resources where they are needed. I realize that that is increasingly becoming an issue for poor African-American, Hispanic and other [ communities ] . We need to put the money into the services that those groups need.
WCT: Ald. Stone obviously believes that his decades of experience in the city council continue to make him the best candidate for the 50th Ward. How do you respond?
GB: These days, all Ald. Stone has to talk about is the past. If he's going to talk about his experience, that's fine, but that doesn't mean people owe him another term because of something he did in the '70s or '80s. When he lists his accomplishments, I think they stop about 1979. He has no idea of the future. He has no programs about addressing the concerns of residents in the ward today, and taking this forward. Even when he announced his intent to run for re-election, he only laid out two goals for himself in the future as alderman. One was to be the oldest alderman ever in the city council, and the second was to have his daughter eventually replace him—and I don't know that those are the type of goals that voters get very excited about.
WCT: With three challengers and Ald. Stone, the 50th Ward race is one of the more competitive. Why are you the best choice for alderman?
GB: Talking about experience and skills, and certainly the commitment, I believe my 20 years as an architect and project planner are really well-suited to the needs of the ward, and professionally managing day-to-day city services, but also having a vision and creating a comprehensive plan for the future.