Tina Feldstein moved into Chicago's Prairie District in 2004 because she loved the area and, admittedly, had a long-time fascination/obsession with the history of Prairie Avenue.
"My love for Prairie Avenue stems back to the mid 1990s, when I worked for the Chicago Trolley Company as a tour guide and would come down to 18th Street and Prairie Avenue, where the trolley garage [was] located," she said. "I never will forget the first time I laid eyes on Prairie Avenue and discovered the Kimball House and the Glessner House; I was blown away."
Feldstein soon started the Near South Neighborhood Social, a way for neighbors to get to know each otherand the group had four successful events.
Then one day, while talking with neighbors, she learned of a development that had been proposed for the Prairie District, which she said many neighbors deemed inappropriate because it was too tall for the area. It just didn't fit the site that it was proposed for, Feldstein said.
"Then I heard that it had been approved with community support," she said. "I was shockedbecause none of us even knew about this. That's when it dawned on me that there was no real representation for this community."
So, in 2006, Feldstein formed the Prairie District Neighborhood Alliance (PDNA), even creating a mission statement.
"After the [PDNA's] first year, it dawned on me that, even though we had successful efforts to advocate for the community, the neighborhood politics and clashing with developers really wasn't something that a lot of people were really interested in engaging in; certainly, the masses were not interested," Feldstein said.
So, she made a decision to go back to what/how she founded the PDNAfor social get-togethers, where neighbors could get to know one another and have a sense of community.
"It seemed like the neighbors were not interested in addressing political issues, but were very interested in social events, such as a wine and food tasting, or a children's Halloween party, or an Easter egg hunt," Feldstein said.
The PDNA chose to shift, and that's when the PDNA exploded.
At its first-ever Easter egg hunt six years ago, there were about 20 participants. Earlier this year, there were about 1,200 at the annual Easter event, including more than 500 kids.
"Over the years, the PDNA has focused on events, activities and programs that give people the opportunity to come together socially and for purposes that might interest them, such as a heart education program or a safety class with the Guardian Angels," Feldstein said. "Turns out, that's what the residents and neighbors are most interested in.
"We've built a relationship with the residents, based on giving them a sense of belonging, a sense of neighborhood and community. Now that we have earned their trust and loyalty, there definitely is interest in advocacy/important meetings."
Feldstein, originally from Los Angeles, has lived in Chicago since 1992 and truly has lived all around the Windy Cityfrom Lakeview and Lincoln Park to Wicker Park and the Fulton River District.
Feldstein and her partner, Kim, will celebrate 12 years together in November.
"I wanted the PDNA to be big, influential from the day I created it; I just had to figure out how to get there. And we definitely have a very good start," she said. "I'm very pleased with how well it's done, but it doesn't surprise me. I think the surprises are yet to come."
Now in its sixth year, the PDNA is a volunteer-run organization, but ready for an executive director, she said.
The PDNA's core focus area extends from Roosevelt Road (1200 South) to the Stevenson Expressway (2500 South), and from Lake Shore Drive to Michigan Avenue west. PDNA's broader focus area also expands a bit to the surrounding areas. It's about two miles long by one mile wide, with extensive high-density living. It mostly features town homes and condo living, with rapidly growing retail districts.
"The area is not stereotypically [prominent within the LGBT community], but I think people would be surprised how many LGBT people are living in the South Loop; there are lots," Feldstein said. "The area absolutely is gay-friendly and I think it's the most diversified neighborhood in the city of Chicago. It really is a melting pot, and we all get along; it's wonderful. In other Chicago neighborhoods, you don't see the diversity that you see here. There's a real sense of neighborhood that some people might associate with a suburban community.
"I want to continue to grow the PDNA brand; I want it to grow to become the most respected, known and influential community group in the city."
Feldstein rode the real-estate wave, particularly during 2000-2008. Then, the economy turned south.
"The market shifted and it just seemed like everyone was unhappy. It got to the point where the segment of the market that seemed to be making sense was getting into the short-sale and default properties. And I just didn't really want to do that," Feldstein said. "It was a painful, depressing process; I just found it to be unappealing."
And she lost her passion for the real estate business, despite being a successful realtor.
Feldstein switched careers, moving into senior services and the insurance industry, "and it's been wonderfulI love it," she said.
To learn more, visit www.pdnachicago.com .