Beauty in Bronzeville, under the El - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Beauty in Bronzeville, under the El


On Nov. 1 QCDC unveiled its Under-'L' garden at 47th and the Green Line

2012 place audits


On Nov. 1, the Quad Communities Development Corporation (QCDC) proudly unveiled its under-El garden at the 47th Street Green Line stop. As the Special Service Area manager for 47th Street, QCDC has long had its eye on improving the area surrounding the stop. In 2012, QCDC asked MPC to lend a hand with conducting several place audits around the El stop, a process by which community members evaluate a place and come up with ideas for how to improve it. Held on a Saturday morning and a weekday evening, we heard from a wide array of Bronzeville residents and merchants that they would like the area around the El stop to include programming on vacant lots; landscaping, planters, benches and trees; and murals and painted facades.

Art on roll-ups


In under a year, QCDC and its partners have made progress on all of these fronts. As we recently highlighted, last year QCDC received a grant from the Illinois Violence Prevention Authority to develop a Placemaking project in which 30 youth participated in a 10-week program to create graphic design pieces that are now being installed on the roll-up doors along the corridor. Long a staple of after-hours security, these doors are being transformed from blank walls to lively canvases that celebrate Bronzeville’s history.

New art at the entrance of 47th & the Green Line provides a sense of place


Most recently, QCDC and partners spearheaded a project to improve the entrance to the El stop and vacant land underneath the El tracks at 47th Street and Prairie Avenue. The team included Special Service Area 56, the Chicago Transit Authority’s “Adopt-A-Station” Program, The Renaissance Collaborative’s Bronzeville Green Program, and local architect Dave Walker from Walk Studio. This beautification project was again funded in part by the Illinois Violence Prevention Authority, due to the long history of illicit and violent activity in the area under the tracks. The group's strategy was born out of the recognition that when spaces feel cared for, they draw people for positive activity rather than negative.

Renovations to the area include:

  • Installation of two four-foot by eight-foot art panels by local students through QCDC’s mural project;  
  • Installation of a 37-foot by 30-foot garden space with pavers and planters throughout;  
  • Artwork created by local students and another partner, One Heart One Soul, on businesses to the east of the station; and
  • A commission for local artist Paul Branton to paint a mural on a nearby building.  

Alderman Dowell at the ribbon cutting for 47th Street's under-L garden


Crucial to this renovation was the repositioning of two bus stops with the help of Alderman Pat Dowell, both to clear the way for the garden and to deter negative loitering that was nearly constant at the station. Ald. Dowell also ensured that more lighting was installed under the El tracks, another needed crime deterrent that was identified during QCDC and MPC’s public evaluations.

Perhaps even more important than the final product is the fact that a team came together with a vision for a space not as it was, but as it could be.

Under the L: Before


As a meme for this project, QCDC was inspired by this image of beauty in unexpected places from under the Pink Line tracks in Pilsen:

Pilsen Portal

In the words of Camille Pissarro, "blessed are they who see beautiful things in humble places where other people see nothing."


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