South Siders greening community to make it safer

May 21, 2010 (CHICAGO)

The Englewood neighborhood is often viewed as a "hot spot" for gang violence and other crimes, but some residents are hoping to change that reputation. They plan to do it by showing residents the value of embracing their history and living green.

It's a hands-on, hard-work way to bring peace to a community that sees more than its share of turmoil. Neighbors and volunteers are installing a peace garden on 63rd Street near Halsted -- and another on 63rd near the Dan Ryan. These are two of about 20 vacant spaces that will be cultivated into community gardens and nature trails in the Englewood neighborhood.

"Open space is something we have plenty of in Englewood, and we do want to bring these spaces back to life and find new ways to encourage productivity in our residents and students of the district," said John Paul Jones, Sustainable Englewood Initiatives founder.

This "Heritage Station Garden" is being installed beneath an old rail station with a new mural as a backdrop. The artwork depicts the Great Migration -- the time around the turn of the 20th century when many African-Americans moved to the North from southern states. During that era the Englewood neighborhood was known as "Junction Grove" because it was a railroad center.

"This location has so much history," said Jones. "It played a significant role in civil rights history, with Emmitt Till being the young man who left this station going to Mississippi and eventually being a part of an international crime."

The garden will include flower beds, flowering trees, benches and open space for children to play.

"Even though everybody knows it's good for kids to play outside, in the city, it's often not safe to play outside. You need to have a place that you can go with your parents or grandparents and be safe," said Glenda Daniel.

Daniel of Openlands, is among the organizers leading the project. Openlands is a non-profit group that works to maximize green space by planting trees, food and community gardens in Chicago neighborhoods.

"I think a lot of people don't realize if they don't live here that there are so many hardworking people in Englewood who work with each other and try to make a difference here, and they want this to become a center for new green business and green space," said Daniel.

There will be more community work days as they build these gardens, including one this Saturday. If you would like to volunteer or find out how to start a project like this in your neighborhood, go to the Openlands website.

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