Old Place New Tricks: Activation days - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Old Place New Tricks: Activation days

Community board at South East Chicago Commission's activation in Bronzeville.

Amazing things happened this weekend as 16 groups from across Chicago and the City of Blue Island delivered on programming a space within their community in response to MPC’s 2014 Placemaking Challenge, Old Place New Tricks. Groups identified a site in their community—a vacant lot, an underused park or a lonely retail strip—and brought it to life by creating an active and engaging temporary place.

Check out our Storify of the day's tweets!

While experiencing a single activation served as a great demonstration for how anybody has the potential to breathe positive energy into their community, the multiplier effect of 16 of these events happening over a single weekend underscores the need that we all share for vibrant places in our communities, regardless of where we live. Groups from Englewood to Rogers Park to Ravenswood to Austin demonstrated this in their Placemaking activations this weekend. The following photos and reflections tell a small part of the story of the work that these groups are doing to create peace and vibrancy in their communities.

Kara Riggio, Metropolitan Planning Council

Children enjoyed playing Lotería on the sidewalk in Rogers Park.

As the Old Place New Tricks activation weekend approached, I was anxious to see projects come to life that participants had been planning for weeks. What I hadn’t expected was an overwhelming sense of community that began to snowball as my journey through the city progressed from one activation to the next. At each site, I was struck by the authenticity of the activation where organizers worked with their community to create a program that responded to a specific local need they had identified.

As I moved through the weekend, I listened to neighbors, many of whom were previously strangers, deliberate over what a vacant lot in Rogers Park should become. While adults were discussing the merits of clean, affordable housing or a community space, a Mexican band played and a young girl regulated a game of Lotería—a Mexican game of chance, similar to bingo. The atmosphere was lively, bright, positive and constructive.

Adults brainstormed ideas for the vacant lot at 7070 North Clark Street in Rogers Park.

Later I found myself in Woodlawn where the Rebuild Foundation was working with 28 neighbors, living in the immediate vicinity, who came out to construct a pavilion that will serve as a community gathering place within the garden they started earlier this summer. As the adults worked in the bright August sun, older kids traversed the site with iPads, taking video and photos to document the day, and younger kids made a game of jumping from one wooden board to the next. A grandmother reflected on her gratitude for a space like this in their community.

Twenty-eight neighbors came out to help construct a pavilion for the community garden in Woodlawn as part of the Rebuild Foundation’s activation. Once harvested, produce from this garden will be available for free to neighbors.

At a stop at a block party in South Chicago, I saw neighbors taking a stand against troubling violence on their block. “We’ve got to do something positive here,” reflected organizer DeAundre Meekins, “we have to try to change what’s been happening.” They had just finished cleaning up the sidewalks and parkway and enjoyed a water balloon fight, CPR lessons and each other’s company in the afternoon.

South Chicago neighbors blocked off their street for a block party with face-painting and opportunities to learn CPR and other life-saving techniques.

Building Blocks CDC

Team Groupon's photo installation demonstrates the transcendent nature of human expression—the people in the photos all live in the community.

And in Near North, Team Groupon spent the day cleaning up around a vacant lot and displaying large-scale photos of residents making goofy faces on the chain link fence, reminding us that human expression transcends human experience.

Abby Crisostomo, Metropolitan Planning Council

I was lucky enough to have two of the 16 participating groups in my neighborhood, so I got to spend a good chunk of the afternoon at the Near North Unity Program's Chalk the Walk event. Chalk the Walk was a “community-wide Placemaking project in order to beautify the neighborhood while bringing the community together” by designating a one-mile path from the Sedgwick brown line stop, south to Division, west along Division to Larrabee, and south along Larrabee to the Groupon headquarters (where the other Placemaking challenge event took place).

Chalk the Walk art created as part of the Near North Unity Program’s weekend activation.

Chalk the Walk was co-organized by Groupon, Art on SedgwickBrothers Standing Together and others. It was great to see everyone out chalking the neighborhood on a beautiful day, and I spent more time on Segdwick than I’ve ever spent after five years of living in the neighborhood.

Marisa Novara, Metropolitan Planning Council

I visited I Grow Chicago, located on a vacant lot in Englewood with plant boxes filled with vegetables. Across the street, Tameka Lawson has been leading yoga on another vacant lot for months. I was 10 minutes in to my visit when Tameka mentioned that she infuses her yoga sessions with social justice. Instantly curious, I asked her what she meant. “What it means,” she explained, “is that when I’m working with a group of young men, and I sense a lot of anger under the surface, I deliberately lead them through breathing exercises to address that. Inhale and visualize that negative encounter with a police officer, exhale and let it go. When I sense that they are feeling hopeless or frustrated,” she continued, “I focus on a lot of plank work to help them feel strong and in control.”

I left with my own visualization, that of young men and women, hurting in some way as we all are, working through a healing process on a vacant lot on their own block. Amazing.

Participants in the I Grow Chicago yoga classes learn the greeting, Namaste. I Grow Chicago neighbors gather before dinner.

We saw so much more. The photos below help us capture some more of the amazing things that happened this weekend.

Passersby found new places to sit in Logan Square.

Sarah Kellerman

“I met a Kemetic Yogi in the neighborhood, worked on 3 generations of a family, worked on a guy who just lost his bestie to a recent shooting and lots of rich conversation and genuine connections. I learned that even though I'm interested in intersections of public art/design & healing I shouldn't stress about how things look. It's the interactions that matter.”

Reflection and photo: Yamani Hernandez

Hoops in the Hood promoted peace, unity and respect in Austin.

Chantel Davis, BUILD

Kids and families came together for fun activities before enjoying a movie at Jensen Park, in Albany Park.

After cleaning up the vacant lot at 18th Street and Sangamon in Pilsen, the Right Side of the Tracks activated their site with a free clothing swap, t-shirt painting and a hoola-hoop contest.

Jackson Morsey


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