South Chicago People’s Park

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Year Established: 1997
Local Leader: Lupe Castaneda
Community Group: Clean & Green Task Force; Claretian Association
NeighborSpace Partnership: 1999

South Chicago People’s Park is exactly what its name implies: a park for all people to enjoy, regardless of age, gender or ethnicity. The volunteers who created the park wanted it to be open and welcoming to everyone who wished to venture inside, and recognize the fact that a diverse group spearheaded the effort to create beauty on what had once been a place filled with bad memories. In 1970 a semi-trailer accident killed three pedestrians on the site, and area residents wanted to reclaim the land by cleaning out the debris and underbrush and, in the process, heal themselves and each other from the tragedy. More than two years and 3,000 volunteer hours later, the South Chicago Peoples Park was established.

Today the space is filled with items for everyone to enjoy: more than 175 shrubs, plants and trees, a lighted performance stage and patio, giant play turtles, and a mosaic tile mural created by local youth. One of the park’s most dramatic and eye-catching features, a wrought-iron fence and archway tells the story of the corner’s transformation and South Chicago’s history, and helps keep the grounds safe from vandals.

Lupe Castaneda, one of the community’s leaders, says the project has also helped transform people’s attitudes towards gardens – including her own. “I have never been a garden person, but working with this garden has actually given me so much joy. Where else can you go to work and water flowers, call your neighbors to see how they’re doing and invite them out for some gardening fun?”

In Lupe’s Words: “NeighborSpace gives a city kid a small view of natural beauty and what summer smells and looks like when everything is in bloom.”

Best Practice Idea: Lupe advises to think about management and upkeep of a community garden as a continuous process. “Take it one summer at a time. If you think about what the park is going to need and how many volunteers you’re going to need, it can make the task seem less daunting.”