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Spring 2021 – Workshop #3: What Do We Mean When We Say “Community”?

The evening opened with lo-fi jazz hop as we again turned to menti for roll call and a one-word check in. In light of the recent spa shootings in Atlanta, we held space in the introduction period for folks to express a feeling and pointed to the agenda document for sharing resources and donation pages to look into.

Image description: Slide from Mike Tomas’s presentation showing six photos of GPCC work. Clockwise from top left 1) A black man speaking at a podium with a microphone in front of a black and white photography exhibit; 2) An indoor community meeting; 3) 6 people posing for a photo on the sidewalk outside an L station; 4) 9 people including Mike Tomas posed for a photo at a panel; 5) A rendering of a proposed Garfield Park affordable housing development; 6) A Community Organizing Training flyer from the GPCC partner group Westside Rising.

For our third workshop of the season, Mike Tomas, founding Executive Director of the Garfield Park Community Council (GPCC) joined us as guest speaker. GPCC has been an active community organizer in the area for over 8 years. While their most recent work has centered around COVID-relief efforts, over the years GPCC has focused on issues such as corridor development, crime reduction, supporting legacy homeowners, and affordability, among others. We learned about a major increase (142%) in Garfield Park housing prices since the recession, that the majority of the housing stock is 2-4 family buildings, and about a growing developer-interest in the plethora of city-owned neighborhood lots, especially in East Garfield Park. GPCC is currently in conversation with the city on “near-West” development initiatives.

Image description: Slide showing the Madison Retail Plan roadmap that Mike Tomas referenced in his presentation. The plan includes half of Garfield Park to the west and extends east along Madison to the corridor beyond California with four keyed levels of development.

A handful of questions popped up in the chat during the presentation, including who is implied with the word “community” and what he sees as the major distinction between East and West Garfield Park. Mike clarified that for him, the “community” refers to residents and that GPCC has a stronger presence of homeowners than renters, despite renters making up 70% of Garfield Park residents. In terms of East and West, Mike cited a 2008 study that revealed a desire for destination development in West Garfield Park but a clear preference for walkability in East Garfield Park. He acknowledged the study was old but suggested that things haven’t changed much where this question is concerned.

For Workshop #3 breakout groups, we continued to delve into this question of who we mean by community. Turning to miro, we discussed various “personas” that might represent an inclusive use of the word. The Engagement + Documentation group focused on the informal community experience, while the Spatial + Social Research group focused on the organizational community experience.

Image description: Snip from the Engagement + Documentation group’s miro board outlining 10 different informal personas.

Jason from the walking tour participated in the breakout groups and suggested that we further break down the persona of “someone who lives in Garfield Park” into the following categories 1) someone who lives in Garfield park but is afraid to leave their house; 2) someone who lives in Garfield park and is not afraid to leave their house 3) An elderly person who lives in Garfield park and is skeptical of folks with whom they share little in common (think age, race, experience). We hope to further refine and address our framing of engagement along these paths in the upcoming weeks.

Image description: Snip from the Social + Spatial Research group’s miro board outlining 6 different organizational personas.


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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