“Big things can happen if you just step forward…”

Interview with WPB SSA33 Chair Brent Norsman
Article by Erin Cigliano

A rotating discoball that lights up the streetscape when you exit the Blue Line Western Station?  Paint the water towers bright orange? More public art at vistas – yes, but we should scout more locations both apparent and hidden.

From bright orange bike racks and vibrant blue benches to 2-foot tall orange gnomes (#orangegnomeproject) that appeared throughout the neighborhood on Arbor Day, Wicker Park Bucktown (WPB) has been steadfast on improving the public realm in highly visible, sustainable and quirky ways.  The funding for these enhancements stem from the Special Service Area 33.

With an update to the Wicker Park Bucktown SSA 33 Master Plan now underway [click here to RSVP for the August 9th Think Tank Event] , I recently sat down with local architect Brent Norsman, Chair of the SSA, to discuss what he sees as the driving forces and desired outcomes of the plan.


Create something “Other”

“Let’s serve up the unexpected and create something ‘other’; let’s look to successes here as well as elsewhere and carve out meaningful outdoor space,” said Norsman.  “This plan should provide the support to further an urban habitat that is friendly, inviting and creative.”

And then there’s balance.  “It’s a package deal,” he notes – pedestrians, bikers, drivers, shoppers, residents… Successful urban locals, balance the interplay between the users and the used – the cyclists and drivers, sidewalks and roadways, cleanliness and free-form art, walkability and safety.  It’s not an easy-win to balance these elements, 5-minutes at the intersection of North, Milwaukee and Damen paints that picture very quickly; but it’s a necessary win.  “That’s the heartbeat of our neighborhood,” says Brent referring to the 6-corners, “everything radiates out from there.”



From the blue benches and orange bike racks to big picture items like furthering safety and improving the Cortland-Ashland Underpass, which sparked 2,000+ votes and numerous ideas via an online quick poll.  A clear focus of the WPB Master Plan Update is on improving the interplay between users and public space – make it creative, make it memorable, make it fun and safe.


How can we reconsider the City?

“How can we reconsider the City?” Asks Norsman. “Tuesdays at the Triangle has helped reinvigorate the Polish Triangle, what other types of programming can we incorporate elsewhere to enliven and bring focus back to our community’s shared spaces?”

Another repeat theme and desire heard via outreach to date is attention to and preservation of history and architecture of the area.  “We need to celebrate and restore historic architecture but also further adaptive retrofits and new, thoughtfully considered architecture.”  The need for better, “not quick” architecture, was a major topic raised at the first community meeting held at the Bucktown Wicker Park Library on May 16th.



Think Bold, Think Big

Norsman’s perspective is that the bottom line is a call for action to all who live and use the neighborhood:

“Think about livability.  Think about reclaiming the space.  Think bold. Thing big… Big plans can happen if you just step forward.” – Brent Norsman, SSA 33 Chair.


Now it’s your turn…

Join us on August 9th for the WPB Think Tank Event

Come think and share your ideas at the August 9th WPB Think Tank Event – 6:30-8:30pm at the Wicker Park Field House.  Review potential projects, tell us where your heart is on matters, show your support and demonstrate what items you’d like to see move forward.

  • 6:30pm — Registration, refreshments and displays.
  • 7:00pm — Presentation and open house.