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Spring 2021 - Workshop #1: Identifying the Research Starting Point

Image description: A building mural made of mosaic tile depicts two young Black children playing in a swirl of clouds, flowers, and butterflies. The mural reads: Garfield Park.

In the midst of several major snowstorms, we’re kicking off the 2021 “spring” season! The evening opened with a few City Open community announcements - we are partnered this season with AIA Chicago to put together research and programming ahead of the 2021 Architecture Biennial, The Available City; City Open now has an Advisory Team, a group of long term active City Open Workshoppers committed to helping steer the platform’s development; and we are expanding day-to-day leadership and learning opportunities within our network via two Engagement + Research Fellows each season. Lastly, as we embark on the 10th season, we’ve also started to characterize the City Open community. We value:

...the collective > individual active pursuit of racial equity and social justice

...checking the framework: how do we ask the right questions?

...bridging conversations: Where are the overlooked resources? Who has untapped expertise?

...opening access to design services

This season will focus on thoughtful engagement processes in East Garfield Park, brought to us via long-time City Opener and new A-Team member Anjulie Rao. Anjulie is a Chicago-based journalist, editor of Chicago Architect magazine, and East Garfield Park resident, who laid the groundwork for why we’ve chosen to focus on this neighborhood:

  • East Garfield Park was the stomping ground for numerous powerful groups and projects- the Black Panther Party, the Rainbow Coalition, Presidents of the West Side, and the Fifth City Development Project, just to name a few.

  • Aside from a few contentious large-scale developments (and the Garfield Park Conservatory), the neighborhood has been continuously overlooked in broader city revitalization efforts, i.e. the current Invest South/West initiative.

  • A need to demystify where disinvestment and neighborhood struggles with vacancy and violence come from, set up by a recent ProPublica article on the Madison Street corridor in East Garfield Park, published in November 2020.

Image description: a black and white historical photo of the Madison and Kedzie intersection, dated 1934. The photograph shows a full street lined by 3-4 story buildings, cars parked along busy storefronts, and people chatting on the sidewalk. Source: Chicago History Today

The overarching question that will frame this season’s investigation:

How do we imagine more inclusive and meaningful planning and visioning processes for historically disinvested neighborhood corridors?

This evening we examined the question through an art and historical research lens. Meida McNeal, Artistic and Managing Director of Honey Pot Performance, and University of Chicago and Columbia College faculty member presented on her research and performance project, Fifth City Revisited. Her work delves into the background of the Fifth City Project, formed in the early 1960’s as a unique grassroots development project. Fifth City community members resisted a narrative of disenfranchisement, organizing around participatory self-autonomy and collective empowerment. While sociologists in the 1980’s characterized four types of community (downtown, innercity, suburbs, or rural), Fifth City was born out of a fifth type: a decisional city that could be whatever the residents wanted it to be.

After a lively, always-too-short Q&A with Meida following her presentation, we broke into three groups to map our collective pre-existing knowledge and follow-up questions about the neighborhood. The prompts included:

  • What should we know now?

  • Who do we need to listen to / learn from?

  • What would you like to learn about?

Image description: Miro board with notes from the three breakout groups compiled into one, organized as questions, projects, people/organizations, and relating to Meida’s presentation. These notes are mapped across a coordinate system spanning from Past to Future, Institutional to Community.

Unsurprisingly, the majority of notes gathered were questions across the board. These conversations will build over the course of the season. The group will be hearing from various perspectives and areas of expertise on the neighborhood over the course of the Spring season to formulate research and engagement tools. These tools and established research base will then direct the framework of programming to be implemented in the Fall season.

If you’d like to get involved further, you can sign up for our working sessions! For those who are new to City Open, we host two types of meetups: regular biweekly workshops (posted on the website calendar, which usually includes a guest speaker & some breakout exercise) and working group sessions. These are the “in-between” sessions (typically alternating with workshop weeks) which provide a “deeper dive” into planning & design discussions. It was a jam-packed evening, speaking volumes to the exciting and full season we have ahead of us!


GENEVIEVE WASSER is an architect preoccupied with centering environmental equity and social + racial justice in the built environment.

LOUISA ZHENG is an architectural designer and artist interested in the mediation of physical spaces through community participatory processes, mapping, print, and other modes of documentation.


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