Community building in East Chicago, one bench at a time - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Community building in East Chicago, one bench at a time

Keith Sparks, homeowners Jose and Ascension Tristan, Steve Bankes, and others enjoy one of the new benches

One of the 11 principles of Placemaking, as defined by MPC’s partner in Placemaking Chicago, Project for Public Spaces, is to “start with the petunias.” Small and seemingly simple actions such as planting flowers or painting a mural are a great way to start transforming a space. They are relatively easy, don’t cost a lot of money, encourage others to think about a space in a new way, and often spur larger and more monumental change.

I’ve always been a big believer in the power of this type of change, so I was thrilled to experience a real life “start with the petunias” moment a couple of weeks ago when Keith Sparks, executive director of Hammond’s Neighborhoods, Inc., invited MPC to participate in the official unveiling of their “Please, Have a Seat!” project. For this project, Neighborhoods, Inc. is partnering with the Foundations of East Chicago to install at least 100 benches on front lawns throughout the northwest Indiana city for the sole purpose of giving residents a place to interact.

The idea for this project came from Oak Park resident Steve Bankes, who put chairs in his front lawn because he wanted to watch his kids play. Soon his neighbors started to join him, bringing wine and snacks, and before long Bankes had created a community center.

Sparks, inspired by this story, already has helped install 13 benches in the Roxana, Northside and Southside neighborhoods in East Chicago, and has plans for many more. Residents agree to have a bench installed on their front lawn, maintain its upkeep, and keep the bench accessible for sitting. In exchange, they have the opportunity to get to know their neighbors better and be a part of building a stronger community. Seems like a win-win.

Interested in learning more? Here are some recent articles about the “Please, Have a Seat!” project:

A neighborly place to sit, Post Tribune, 8/14/10

Sit-down has people talking in East Chicago, Chicago Tribune, 8/9/10


  1. 1. Katherine from Chicago on August 24, 2010

    I'd like to propose a 12th principle of placemaking: If you build a bench, they will come.

    Maybe a 13th principle: If you build a bench in the shade, they will come in droves!

  2. 2. Karin on August 25, 2010

    Good thinking, Katherine!

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