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Fall 2020 – Site visit: Get to know Rogers Park

We met at the corner of Howard and Ashland ready for a site visit of Hello Howard Garden in Rogers Park, hoping to contextualize the Rogers Park Corridor Development Initiative (CDI) and hear more specifically what the community and aldermanic office of the 49th Ward are looking for in the public Request for Proposals of the two city-owned lots the gardens sit on.

Huge shoutout to our guides, 49th Ward Director of Economic & Community Development Torrence Gardner and Program Director of Communities Partnering for Peace (CP4P) Ralph Edwards, who generously shared their knowledge of the site, the neighborhood and its residents.

Image description: City Open attendees and our tour guides pose for a group photo at the street intersection opposite the Hello Howard Garden. (Photo credit: Rob Bratney)

As we walked the perimeter of the gardens, Torrence recounted how even before Alderwoman Maria Hadden was voted into office last year, the site has seen multiple, major development proposals. Perhaps unsurprisingly, many people want to invest in the neighborhood, but often lack the necessary diverse community input that they should have.

Image description: An eye-level view of the Hello Howard Garden plots of individual gardens, full of vegetation and scattered flowers, with a two story brick building in the background.

“I’ve watched this neighborhood, as well as Uptown, make a dramatic change - through development. And one of the things is like they’ll put a proposal on the table - and the wording? Perfect to the ear - as far as bringing more diversity and more job creation and things like that to the neighborhood,” Ralph explains. But once these projects take off, they transform into very different results. “So right now, we’re dealing with a push out, a gentrification of the neighborhood.”

This means even more so, the RFP response will need to portray intentional community involvement and detail how the development will directly return resident investment. We heard that a strong demand is introducing and increasing diverse economic activity in the neighborhood - actual job creation and hiring local, a major issue made visually evident as the group walked along the business corridor. Walking on Howard Street, we learned that none of those storefronts were owned by nor hired part-time directly from the residents in the area. Because gang divisions are very strong in the neighborhood, hiring local is crucial.

Image description: City Open group walks along a shaded stretch of the Howard St business corridor, with a brown-papered storefront in the background.

Despite specific physical advantages such as the adjacency to the train station, lake, and park (our only gathering place in the pandemic, but in this case unusually vacant), as well as bountiful architectural heritage and neighborhood character, the group agrees that the site appears to be underutilized. Throughout the walking tour we had lively discussion of possibilities and questions probing to know more about the residents of the area.

Now with a more clear frame of reference, the group will reconvene at this week's Workshop #2 to debrief and prepare for the upcoming community meetings.


LOUISA ZHENG is a designer interested in social impact and community participatory processes.

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