Contest rewards repurposing of vacant spaces

September 22, 2012 (CHICAGO)

"We want you to remember that yes we're in an urban environment, but you can slow down," said Colleen O'Toole of Andersonville Development Corporation. "You can enjoy the pace of life that's happening around you."

In North Lawndale, Laura Michel rallied her neighbors to turn three vacant lots into a community garden. She says has lived on the block for ten years and the property had become a trash dump. After trying to contact the legal owner to clean it up, she and her neighbors took matters into their own hands.

"They don't live in this neighborhood, so it doesn't matter to them if this property sits vacant or not," said Avers Community Garden's Laura Michel. "But we walk past it every day and for us, we wanted to make it something we could use."

In Roseland, a group called Demoiselle 2 Femme which is French for "young ladies to women" turned a vacant lot into a handmade playground. The group exposes teen girls to careers in science, technology, engineering and math. With the help of an architech, the girls created a layout to mimics the mountainous Swiss Alps -- or neutral territory.

"It was a vacant lot, which is very common in the Roseland community," said Demoiselle 2 Femme's Awannda Piper. "What we found here was a bunch of trash, broken glass, drug paraphernalia. We wanted to have a place where it was safe for children to play in this particular part of the neighborhood.

These groups are among 45 contestants who have entered a contest sponsored by the non-profit metropolitan planning council.

The contest is called The Space in Between which encourages residents to eliminate blight in their communities.

"Places that people would normally dismiss as an eyesore, these folks who've entered this contest chose to see it as a canvas and say I can do something interesting and creative here," said Metropolitan Planning Council's Marisa Novara.

The winners will receive cash prizes to re-invest in their projects. They will be chosen by the public vote. You can vote now through October 5th.

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