Chicagoland is filled with great public spaces. Some of the most famous and recognizable may be in downtown Chicago, but the entire region is full of less well-known places that are equally, or even more, cherished by local residents. MPC’s October 28 Roundtable discussion introduced four of these beloved places, featuring the people behind the winning submissions to the “What Makes Your Place Great?” photo and video contest.
The event was moderated by Mary Schmich, of the Chicago Tribune, who opened the event by describing her favorite Chicago place – the promontory point at Montrose Harbor. Although it is close to a busy neighborhood, Ms. Schmich’s place is a sanctuary, somewhere to be alone in the vast, often chaotic city.
Each of the four speakers introduced her winning Chicagoland place, describing its history and what it means to the community. Amy Roth nominated Phillips Park in Aurora, Ill, which won the People’s Choice Award for Best Photo. She spoke about how many great memories she has of time spent in the park, and how many opportunities there are for others to have equally memorable experiences – from sledding in the winter, to visiting the zoo, to enjoying the flowers in the garden on a beautiful afternoon. Ami Shah spoke, along with local resident and business owner Rachel Perkal, about the heritage-filled, welcoming Shops of Long Grove, which won the People’s Choice Award for Best Video.
Susan Vega and Mary Kay Freese
Rachel Perkal, from Long Grove, Ill.
The Grand Prize Award for Best Photo went to the Bush Community Garden of Hope, submitted by Sylvia Ortega. Ms. Ortega’s sister, Susan Vega, spoke about the garden’s role as a community center for her small, often overlooked community in South Chicago. The garden fills two city lots, where local residents raise flowers and food. It has also become a place for children’s programs and social events, and for adults to connect with their neighbors. The Grand Prize for Best Video went to Drake Garden in Albany Park, submitted by Mary Kay Freese, Kallan Benjamin, and Jewel Otten. Like in the Bush community, Albany Park residents also value their community garden as a magnet for neighborhood solidarity. It is a place where new gardeners and their favorite plants are always welcome, and where local residents of all ages come together in a real community atmosphere.
All of the speakers concentrated on their favorite places as being strong social magnets, with welcoming, neighborhood atmospheres. They are the places people frequent to spend time with friends and neighbors, and to enjoy memories and experiences of living in a great Chicagoland community.
The winners of MPC’s “What Makes Your Place Great” contest received a gift package that included Chicago Architecture Foundation walking tour tickets; Boulevard Lakefront Bike Tour tickets, and membership to the Active Transportation Alliance; passes to the Art Institute of Chicago, donated by the School of the Art Institute of Chicago; a trio of "CO-OP Hotsauce" made from chilies grown in NeighborSpace community gardens in Humboldt Park; MPC roundtable tickets; and a gift certificate to either Branch 27, Browntrout, or Feast restaurants, or Seven Ten Lanes.
The roundtable and contest are part of MPC’s Placemaking Chicago initiative, aimed at creating and enhancing public spaces around the region through policy and advocacy work with government agencies, technical assistance on public space projects, and education about the importance of quality public spaces. To learn more about Placemaking Chicago and join in the fun, please visit the Placemaking Chicago Web site or become a member of the Placemaking Chicago group on the Placemaking Movement, an international online Placemaking network site.
MPC Research Assistant Annie Lambla contributed to this article.