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Time and Money Spent on Harlem Avenue Median Are Worth it, Officials Said

Harlem Avenue, a onetime dirt farm road, gets another face-lift with a median beautification project.

Tinley Park drivers may have noticed the Harlem Avenue median is undergoing a face-lift, with new plants, greens and even a few trees.

Officials said it's part of a multi-phase project intended to provide beautification, improved traffic safety and even a boost to the local economy.

And while some residents may still question the time and money spent on a revamped median, the new design is expected to save $40,000 a year, largely due to a decreased need to landscape, fertilize, mow and weed, Director of Public Works Dale Schepers said.

Greenspace and the Bottom Line

"It improves people's perceptions of , their perception of shopping center and the amount of money they spend," City Planning Director Amy Connolly said. "It's an economic development tool to have these green spaces in the right of way."

Schepers seconded that opinion.

"It's my understanding that the more green we have here in the community, the more we realize on the bottom line," he said. "People like that, they'll enjoy it, and they'll spend more money."

Besides lending Tinley that tony, upscale allure, attractively landscaped medians can improve traffic flow.

"Studies have shown that when you have a landscaped median, it provides 'visual friction," Connolly said. "As you're driving down the road, you slow down, you want traffic to flow a little slower, make it a little calmer."

Keeping the Median Alive

As village administrators considered the problem of the Harlem Avenue median, they came to a conclusion.

"We wanted something that would live," Connolly said.

After all, a median, which is constantly buzzed by cars, swamped by fumes and sprayed with salt, is just not the friendliest environment for a plant.

"A lot of times, if you don't have good design, if you don't have salt-tolerant plants, and irrigation, you have a dead median," she said.

So, a few years ago, village administrators turned to Chicago-based Site Design Group, Inc. for help.

"They have the talent, savvy and prior experience to deliver," Schepers said. 

Site Design Group Landscape Designer Amy Beltemacchi said the stone used in the train station was one inspiration for the median project.

"It's Fond Du Lac limestone," she said. "Some limestone is very soft, others are harder, Fond du Lac is one that holds its shape, and you can build with it."

The village had requested salt-resistant and native shrubs in the median design, she said, noting that this presented a challenge.  

"We're in the Great Lakes area, which is a freshwater area, and the native plants are not salt-tolerant," she said. 

Haven for Birds, Bugs

For that reason, some of the Harlem Avenue median greenery aren't native.

"Day-lilies are not native, but they do give long-term bloom and are salt tolerant," Beltemacchi said.

The design also uses bluestem, goldenrod, monard (also known as bee-balm) and rudbeckia. While no person would want to linger on the Harlem median, it could provide a haven to birds and bugs, she said.

"Every little green spot helps," Beltemacchi said. "Views of open space calm us down, whenever we can minimize hardscape, it's going to help."

Connolly said median plants will also get a boost from a built-in sprinkler system. The medians were designed to be more efficient and to spray off the plants.

The million-dollar project was largely financed with an Illinois Transportation Enhancement grant, said Schepers.

He noted that the Harlem Avenue corridor from 183rd Street North to 175th Street has not yet been improved, because redevelopment is expected in that area. 

Nature Lovers Can See What Develops

Connolly promises that nature lovers will not be bored by the Harlem Avenue median.

"As the seasons change, different flowers will become more prominent (there)," she said. "Other times, the grass will be really prominent. It will be fun for people to watch and see, as seasons change, different things pop out ... "

Perhaps one of the most qualified area critics is Patricia Siemsen of the Tinley Park Historical Society, a resident since 1949. Her husband grew up on a farm at 167th and Harlem Avenue, where the couple lived after their marriage.

" ... Harlem was still a dirt road," Siemsen, 69, said. She's been watching the Harlem Avenue median project with interest.

"I think it's very nice, they're doing a good job," she said. "You've got to give it time, to see how the plantings come together."

mr.joe July 29, 2011 at 01:17 PM
this is a big waste of money .in 2 years over 1/2 of the plants will die off from salt damage. drove from super k south yesterday and there are weeds growing all over the place. what a waste of tax payers money . so sad.
TP Karen July 29, 2011 at 02:56 PM
Agreed, Mr. Joe! We need to archive articles like this to remind ourselves in a year or two of the beauty and economic benefits the plantings will provide. What I've noticed along Harlem Avenue is the lack of sidewalks and nearly always residents walking w/bags of goods & groceries from Aldi & Kmart. For some reason there are no sidewalks in the area of Hanover Place as well as North of 167th Street. The seniors and apartment dwellers need safe walkways! No funds for that?
john bruno July 29, 2011 at 03:29 PM
You are both right. When city people have money to spend, they spend it on goofy things.....in 2 years, they'll have more money to cover over the dead plants with concrete, again......Jerks....the appropriate word.
Steve Vick July 29, 2011 at 05:43 PM
I think it is nice to see this, instead of the concrete. Since a big part was paid for by a grant. I am glad to see we get grants in this town. Yes we should have sidewalks, it so ridiculous that we don't.
georgina koenig July 29, 2011 at 06:00 PM
I agree with all of the above, what a total waste of money, the weeds will overtake it in a year or so, and the planning that went into this , i say there was none, there are too many plants crammed in small space, looks to me like they wanted to spend as much money as possible since it came from the us government, the reinvestment act. It is a total waste of money!!!!!! They beautified 167th street a few years ago and I called the village about more weeds than plants this spring and finally they picked the weeds.
Cheri July 29, 2011 at 06:13 PM
The FOOLS that run this town and waste tax dollars on "projects" they have promised to Zabrocki's and his cronie b-buddies.( Concrete contractors, landscapers, developers, old greedy tavern owners) Waste of money. Where are the sidewalks? It will all be dead in two years thats for sure if not sooner. From salt pollution and lack of care. Oh guess what some one can get a contract through the village to do it all over again. All the idiotic money wasting pipe dreams for this town are ridiculous. If Mayor Z. loves Tinley Park so much why did he move to the over priced Brookside Glen(Will County) Subdivision. I have lived in this town for 47 of my 47 years and it is what it is a middle class town and there is nothing wrong with that. Maybe if there was some place to PARK in the old part and some where to WALK on the out skirts businesses could do better. Daily finally left Chicago maybe the Big Z will finally leave the area some day soon. Then maybe we could see some real progess in Tinley.

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