CHICAGO (Sept. 25, 2009) - One of Chicago's most impoverished neighborhoods has developed a comprehensive plan to both beautify the community and promote local green businesses, leaders in Chicago's Englewood neighborhood announced today.
"This plan takes a community with a surplus of vacant land and re-envisions it as a garden, produce and green business center. In the best spirit of Burnham, this plan focuses not on what is, but on what might be," said Glenda Daniel, Openlands, which has worked closely with the community to develop the plan.
The New ERA Trail Community Vision Plan was funded by the Exelon Foundation. Openlands, based in Chicago, is one of the nation's oldest metropolitan conservation organizations. The plan would replace large swaths of overgrown, deserted land in Englewood with gardens, a linear park to connect with existing hiking and bicycle trails, and a local marketplace.
Once home to the city's most vibrant commercial district outside the Loop, disinvestment over the last 40 years has left Englewood with one of the highest percentages of open space - in the form of vacant lots - of any community in Chicago.
At the core of the community's ambitious re-development plan is a two-mile stretch of abandoned, raised railway line, located between 58th and 59th Streets and running from Hamilton Avenue to Lowe Avenue. A linear park along the railway, named the New ERA Trail (Englewood Remaking America), will connect residents with new local businesses and be anchored by a four-season "green" flea market.
Community residents hope to attract to the trail businesses that are related to alternative energy or that sell environmental products. An outdoor Festival Plaza located along the trail would bring the community together for festivals, events, live performances and public art. Non-profit Growing Home's organic Wood Street Farm, which sells produce commercially, is already located along the corridor, and Goodness Greenness, an organic food distributor, is established in Englewood.
"Our goal is to support the community's vision of bringing green businesses to this area of Englewood," said Kathy Dickhut, deputy commissioner for sustainable development in Chicago's Department of Zoning and Land Use Planning. "The city is committed to undertaking a land use analysis of the area bordering the proposed New ERA Trail and to working with prospective entrepreneurs to provide appropriate zoning recommendations and otherwise assist with the development of new green businesses. We are in discussions with the railroad that currently owns the proposed trail site to secure access for an environmental assessment and to determine what would be needed to transfer that title to a public agency."
The plan also envisions a network of sites throughout the community where local food will be grown or community-managed parks will replace derelict lots. These gardens will provide food, beautify the community, improve residents' health, provide educational opportunities for students and stimulate local economic activity. The Washburne Culinary Institute at the new Kennedy King College at 63rd Street and Halsted Street is already exploring ways to grow food locally.
One site under development is the Heritage Station Garden and Mural located at 63rd Street and Parnell Avenue. The mural and garden, a project of Terina Crenshaw-Hodges of the Stay Environmentally Focusd' Foundation and funded by the Exelon Foundation, celebrates Englewood's historic role as an important rail junction and as an important stop for African Americans arriving from the South arriving during the early 20th century. It is also the station that from which Emmett Till left on his historic journey south.
Access points, wayfinding signage and gathering spaces will be engineered along the trail to create awareness and facilitate pedestrian and bicycle connections. The project will showcase sustainable development throughout, including use of native plants, rain gardens, bioswales and green roofs. Designs for the trail plan were developed by Hitchcock Design Group based on community input sessions.
"The plan brings together a number of elements that community residents have identified as critical to the community: recognizing our shared cultural and historic heritage, creating connections within the community and beyond, bringing jobs and sustainable development, and creating access to healthier foods and lifestyles," said John Paul Jones of the Greater Englewood Community and Family Task Force, who is leading efforts to build local and political support to transform the New ERA Trail vision into reality.
Designated a "Green Legacy" project by the Burnham Plan Centennial, the Englewood project is one of 20 initiatives of the 100th anniversary celebration that fill critical gaps in the region's green infrastructure.
"One of Burnham's enduring legacies is a commitment to preserving the region's open space and lakefront. From Wisconsin, through Illinois and Northwest Indiana, our region's interconnected network of open spaces and natural areas -- greenways and trails, wetlands, parks and forest preserves -- link our communities together and make life better for everyone," said Steve Solomon, president of the Exelon Foundation, environmental sponsor of the Burnham Plan Centennial.
This year is the 100th anniversary of Daniel Burnham's and Edward Bennett's "Plan of Chicago", one of the first and most visible comprehensive regional plans. One hundred years later, the Burnham Plan still inspires us to be visionary, think regionally, recognize the value of beauty and conservation, and act deliberately to turn our plans into reality for the benefit of all the people of the region.
More than 250 Partners, including museums, professional associations, civic and community organizations, educational institutions and others, are collaborating to develop programs that will shape the Centennial and engage a broad audience.