El Paseo Community Garden
The MacArthur Foundation Creative Placemaking Award (2020)
944 W 21st St, Chicago, IL 60608
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What do you do to ensure that former industrial land in a community that has suffered from its pollution is used to benefit long-standing and newer residents? The people of the Pilsen community has created a replicable model.Used solely as a short-cut for children going to school, the former industrial site, on Sangamon between Cullerton and 21st Street, had long been a problem for the community. Things changed in 2009. During the building of nearby affordable housing, the City of Chicago built a sidewalk for use by the tenants and approved the creation of a small community garden on the contaminated lot but provided no funding to help make it happen. Undaunted, local residents Paula and Antonio Acevedo and their community partners began to plant on the site using raised beds to avoid the contamination and lobbied the Federal government for help, which arrived in 2013 when the Environmental Protection Agency removed the contaminated soil. With clean soil, the Acevedos and their neighbors went into high gear. Together they transformed the small garden into an abundant planting and gathering space for the neighborhood. Not only does the land boast vegetable and flower gardens, there is now a butterfly garden, native prairie plantings, and a permaculture site with edible varieties, from peaches to grapes, 40 species of flowering plants, a wetland, and an herb spiral. Gatherings for people are equally diverse as the space hosts Kids Garden Days, yoga, meditation, and garden workshops in an outdoor classroom called ‘the Hive.”In 2017, what is now the El Paseo Community Garden became home to the first images of a three-phase mural project that showcases the history of Pilsen and celebrates Latino culture—a vibrant visual depiction of the past and the enduring legacy of this immigrant community.“El Paseo is a community space that encourages people to grow healthy food, but to become more active in the community,” said Paula Acevedo. “The garden brings us together in ways that were unimaginable just a few short years ago. For creating a space that celebrates the diversity, history, and culture that is the strength of the community and that links the past to the future, the John D. And Catherine T. MacArthur Creative Placemaking Award is presented to El Paseo Community Garden.