NeighborSpace is the only nonprofit urban land trust in Chicago that preserves and sustains gardens on behalf of dedicated community groups. We shoulder the responsibilities of property ownership — such as providing basic insurance, access to water, and links to support networks — so that community groups can focus on gardening. NeighborSpace-protected gardens give young and old alike an opportunity to get their hands in the earth and enjoy nature, right in their own neighborhoods.
We understand that gardeners invest an enormous amount of time, funds, sweat and heart into these sites, and that these are the very ingredients that make community gardens beautiful and unique. The NeighborSpace land trust works to protect local sites by:
- Providing permanent protection against potential development
- Establishing local partnerships that ensure community management and control
- Covering basic liability insurance for gardeners and volunteers
- Developing resources and opportunities through the Stewardship Mini Grant Program
- Providing stewardship support, and technical assistance
Since the 1960s, community groups across Chicago have used vacant or untended lots as opportunities to create open spaces in their neighborhoods. These sites become important community assets that provide residents with opportunities to socialize with each other, plant and grow food, or simply be outside and enjoy nature. These activities have done much to improve the quality of life in a variety of neighborhoods. Over the years, many of these sites were threatened or disappeared altogether.
In the mid-1990s, studies showed that Chicago ranked 18th out of 20 cities of comparable size in the ratio of open space acres to population. In response to these and other findings, leadership from the City of Chicago, Chicago Park District and the Forest Preserve District of Cook County came together to undertake the development of a comprehensive plan to expand open green space in the City.
Representatives from these agencies consulted with community leaders and nonprofit organizations to develop the best strategies to preserve and expand open space for all residents to enjoy. The leading area “greening” nonprofits recommended a land trust be established to preserve small community developed gardens and parks because so many had for so long been lost to re-development.
In response, the City of Chicago, Chicago Park District, and Forest Preserve District of Cook County worked together to establish NeighborSpace as a non-profit in 1996 and charged the organization with the mission to acquire such properties and ensure their continued survival. These three governmental agencies continue to provide leadership and financial support to protect community-managed open spaces in Chicago.
NeighborSpace has achieved much since it started in 1996. We now steward 109 community garden sites located in 33 wards across the City of Chicago.
NeighborSpace has been recognized for its innovation and leadership with awards including the following:
- 2016 Chicago Region Tree Initiative Urban Forestry Award for “Partnerships for Success,” in partnership with Bartlett Tree Experts
- 2014 Vision Award from Urban Land Institute Chicago
- 2012 Polaris Award from the Midwest Ecological Landscaping Association
- 2011 Local Hero Award for Best Chicago Non-Profit Organization from Edible Communities
- 2002 State of Illinois Governor’s Illinois Tomorrow Award
- 2002 James C. Howland Urban Enrichment Gold Award presented by the National League of Cities
- 2000 Honorable Mention from Harvard’s Innovations in American Government Award
- 2000 Acts of Caring Award from the National Association of Counties
- 2000 National Recreation and Park Association Great Lakes Region Partnership Award
- 2000 Award for Excellence in Resource Management from the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives