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Year Established: 1994
NeighborSpace Partnership: 1999
Previous Names: Growing Exchange, 8805 S. Exchange Community Garden
Community Exchange Garden is commonly referred to as the “garden of hope” among residents of the South Chicago community. The name has been especially appropriate recently as hope has played a significant role in the garden’s survival. Normally active neighbors were forced to limit their time in the garden during the summer of 2006 after a surge in street violence on the block. As a result, gardeners began spending more and more time indoors, and the typically well-kept and frequently used garden became overgrown with weeds, obscuring its wide variety of flowers and ample vegetable beds.
However, according to local leader Rosa Perea, the neighborhood never lost hope that the space would be restored to its original beauty and purpose as an integral part of the community’s social fabric. Until the mid-1990s the 8805 S. Exchange Garden served as more of a vacant neighborhood eyesore than asset. Neighbors on Exchange Avenue elected to beautify the lot on their own initially, then brought the project to NeighborSpace which formally protected their efforts by acquiring the land on their behalf. Because the garden was born from a true community lead initiative, it was only a matter of time before the many neighborhood greening volunteers reclaimed it during the summer of 2006. By August, an increase in police presence and community activism had helped calm the fears of many neighbors, and a revival of the 8805 S. Exchange Community Garden had begun in earnest. After just a couple community-wide workdays during which even young children pitched in by pulling weeds, the space was well on its way to resembling the neighborhood haven it had once been and will continue to be.
In Rosa’s Words: “Our garden is known by the neighbors as the ‘garden of hope.’ It brings hope for a community without drugs, gangs and violence. The garden has brought people together and shows that, in the midst of all the violence, beautiful things—and hope—can and do survive.”
Best Practice Idea: Rosa stresses that it is important not only to get people involved in a garden and keep them active, but also to say “thank you” by recognizing the work they do and other contributions they may make.