Brenda Dixon, Community and Neighborhood Improvement Project (CNIP); Bernard Williams, and the family of Marshall "Major" Taylor at the mural unveiling ceremony in July 2018
Community and Neighborhood Improvement Project (CNIP)
In 2017-2018, the Chicago Community Trust funded ten community-led riverfront projects through their Our Great Rivers grant. If you have missed any of our spotlight stories, catch up with the full blog series, here!
Over the course of 2018, MPC has facilitated the cohort of Great Rivers grantees funded by the Chicago Community Trust and provided technical assistance to each project. Each of these groups is composed of diverse stakeholders, advancing the health of our region’s rivers and fostering stronger connections to the communities on their banks. Throughout the year, these projects both brought people to the rivers for the first time or helped them rediscover how much they've always loved our region's waterways. We've been inspired by the planning, programming, artistic, and research endeavors that our partners have taken on, and how they have put the Our Great Rivers vision into action.
MPC’s Rivers team recently sat down with each project team to learn about their biggest accomplishments and proudest moments from 2018.
- The Northwest Portage Walking Museum project is most proud of the collaborative relationships
they’ve built between the Portage Park Neighborhood Association, the American Indian Center, the Horner Park Advisory Council, and artist Santiago X. The project team stated they had “no idea just how big and transformative this work would be.” Their biggest accomplishment has been navigating bureaucratic processes to successfully create the plans for two effigy mounds along the Chicago and Des Plaines rivers, which will be the first created by an indigenous artist since the founding of the United States. The project shows that the American Indian community is still very much thriving here in the Chicago region.
Chicago Public Art Group
The American Indian Center led a stomping ceremony at Horner Park to prepare the land for the potential installation of an effigy mound.
- On the North Branch of the Chicago River, a vibrant riverfront has taken shape at Lathrop Homes. Heartland Alliance, in partnership with Related Midwest and Bickerdike Redevelopment, is proud of progress seen along the shore of this mixed-income housing development. As Lathrop nears full occupancy, its residents can look forward to a new, cantilevered riverfront path, as well as a recently-completed boat launch. The launch is bound to be popular next year as it opens in conjunction with a new boathouse and woodshop to be used for boat building.
- The Forest Preserves of Cook County, working on the Better Beaubien project, is proud of the relationships they’ve built with local connector organizations (such as the Altgeld Branch Chicago Public Library, the Chicago Park District, and TCA Health). The American Institute of Architects Chicago, who is assisting with the master planning effort, said they are most proud of the strength of the alliance group that now represents a network of people dedicated to progress in and around Beaubien Woods.
- The Major Taylor Trail Improvement Project is most proud of the new mural honoring Marshall “Major” Taylor across the Little Calumet River—and the fact that the bridge no longer has graffiti on it (which was the dream that sparked the whole project). The project team also points to the institutional relationships they’ve built with entities like the Forest Preserves, the Park District, and local aldermen, as well as their partnerships with other local and national stewardship and recreation groups who participated in the project and the mural unveiling event and 5k.
- Another riverfront mural was unveiled in Chinatown, which was one of this year’s highlights for
the Coalition for a Better Chinese-American Community and Ping Tom Park Advisory Council's Ping Tom Park & Chinatown project. The mural, inspired by Chinese porcelain, is a unique and impressive addition to the city's public art. CBCAC is proud that their art and wayfinding project sparked conversations about life and the spirit of the community, in contrast to the usual focus on the challenges the neighborhood is facing.
Children playing in front of the new mural at Ping Tom Park
- For the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization and the Natural Resource Defense Council, who are working on the Little Village & South Chicago Riverfront Health project, their proudest moment was finding a way to visualize the environmental burden and vulnerability of the community. Working with City agencies to create forums for discussing health and environmental justice in relation to the Industrial Corridor Modernization process in Little Village was another huge accomplishment.
- The South Branch Advisory Council, MPC, Friends of the Chicago River, and Active Transportation
Alliance, working on the South Branch Parks Framework Plan, were extremely proud to see the parks activate a year-long conversation with input from 16 unique communities to develop a vision for an accessible waterfront and future riverfront trail on the Southwest side of Chicago.
Community members create their own parks at a South Branch parks visioning session.
- On their Calumet Connect project, the Alliance for the Great Lakes is most proud of the formation of the local action team and the use of tactical urbanism for site activation. The UIC Great Cities Institute cited building relationships with environmental justice organizations and residents and shining a light on the environmental issues in the neighborhood as their biggest accomplishments.
- For the Wildlife Habitat Council, whose project aims to align corporate and conservation interests to increase access and green space along the Calumet River Industrial Corridor, this past year laid the groundwork for strong partnerships with area stakeholders. The Council is proud of the conversations they have sparked between environmental groups and industry, as well as more tangible progress seen in tree planting efforts.
- Along the Des Plaines River, new connections forged between various governing bodies and stakeholders have marked a strong start to the Des Plaines River Trail project. Active Transportation Alliance, which is building this intergovernmental coalition along the river, pointed to the coalition’s enthusiasm as an indication of the project’s promise to create a continuous, safe, and vibrant trail system.
As for MPC’s staff, Chloe Gurin-Sands is most proud of the extensive amount of genuine community engagement that was done by the project teams, creating activities, improvements, and plans that truly reflect what residents want to see in their neighborhoods.
Josh Ellis is most proud of the collective energy, creativity, and effort that really makes the Our in Our Great Rivers a reality: “A vision to unify around, some shared rivers, a little funding, some coaching, and then good ideas and motivated leaders… it’s a good recipe.”
Finally, MPC welcomed Christina Harris to the Rivers team, who is hopeful about the future of the continued riverfront activation. Meeting all the folks actively engaged in improving their neighborhood public space and hearing ideas for new collaborations and ideas is inspiring.
With the renewal support from Chicago Community Trust for several of this past year’s projects, as well as the addition of four new grant recipients, year two of the grant is shaping up to be just as fruitful as the first. In 2019, keep an eye out for the stories soon to surface along our region’s riverbanks.
Greg Ross is a Research Assistant at Metropolitan Planning Council