NeighborSpace is a nonprofit urban land trust in Chicago that preserves and sustains gardens on behalf of dedicated community groups.
Land use is particularly important to residents of Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood, given development pressures and issues of neighborhood safety and health equity. However, residents are not always engaged in land use decisions in a meaningful and authentic way. Inspired by the successful precedent set by Jardincito, a NeighborSpace community garden in Little Village, the community came together around a vision to create a similar space at 25th Place and Kildare.
In contrast to a top-down planning process, NeighborSpace sought to develop a place-based, community-led design process for the vacant lot, where stakeholders were directly involved in the creation and selection of new ideas for a new community-managed nature play garden.
Greater Good Studio used a variety of design research techniques to learn from and incorporate the voices of Little Village residents, business owners, elected officials, and other stakeholders into a design process.
In order to meet community stakeholders where they were, we conducted intercept interviews in public locations where we knew we would find children and families. For example, we attended a report-card pickup day at Corkery Elementary, located just a block from the site, and engaged students and their parents in activities.
We also observed youth as they played and interacted in the existing nature-play garden, Jardincito.
Additionally, we set up posters at a laundromat adjacent to the site for several hours, and spoke with families about the project as they came to do their laundry.
We held several focus groups with staff and volunteers of local organizations, such as Erie Neighborhood House, El Valor Center, Corkery Elementary School, and neighborhood garden leaders, to understand the assets and challenges in their neighborhood and to see what opportunities a nature-play garden could offer them.
After synthesizing the research into a set of findings, we facilitated a one-day workshop with community members and local stakeholders, providing Spanish translation and materials.
During the workshop, we shared research findings and community stakeholders generated dozens of ideas in response to brainstorming prompts that were directly tied to the research.
The group worked in pairs to turn ideas with the most interest into 3-dimensional models and presented them to the larger group.
The process resulted in a set of high-level strategies, accompanied by specific design concepts, for NeighborSpace to incorporate into the final design of the garden. In addition to physical design elements, the concepts responded to research findings by including ideas for programming and communication so the development of the garden also considered long-term sustainability and community ownership.
Client & Community Outcomes
Since our work concluded, NeighborSpace has moved the feedback gathered through our process into a physical design of the community garden. They referred to our guiding document and used the framing mechanism we provided while making design and programming decisions. They also reflected that sharing our process, insights, and ideas was helpful in garnering more community buy-in and interest in the project.. Furthermore, NeighborSpace was able to use our final report to secure funding for additional design and development of the site. The efforts of NeighborSpace and stakeholders in Little Village ultimately resulted in the Jardin Esperanza de La Villita, a beloved nature play garden that serves and reflects the vibrant community around it.
Working with the folks from Greater Good Studio was such a unique collaboration. The processes they led both us and community members through were extremely thoughtful, tested, and thorough. The “parallel play” brainstorming session was such an equitable way to capture everyone’s best thinking.Robin Cline