GRAND BOULEVARD — Two Bronzeville projects to improve food access and environmental sustainability are moving forward as part of a city program to support developments near public transit.
Food Matters and the Overton Center for Excellence were among 11 community projects that received grants in the city’s Equitable Transit Oriented Development pilot program in October. Food Matter received $15,000 and Overton got $20,000.
A key part of the city’s program is to reinvest in public transit, but it also aims to spur economic development and bring affordable housing, community centers and cultural venues to areas near train and bus lines.
Here’s how the two have used their grants:
Overton, once a closed elementary school, is being transformed into a community hub where neighbors can shop, play basketball or view art installations. The former school, in the midst of a $14 million renovation, also is home to a rain garden installed with the help of Greencorps Chicago and the Center for Neighborhood Technology.
With the city’s grant, the Overton team created environment-friendly demonstration projects to draw investors to the site, 221 E. 49th St., near the Green Line and the King Drive bus.
Ghian Foreman, who bought Overton in 2015, enlisted Borderless Studio’s Paola Aguirre Serrano for the work. Aguirre Serrano painted a map of Bronzeville in Overton’s parking lot, overlaying it with a flood map to show areas in the neighborhood most affected by flooding.
Getting people to understand how climate change can impact them is a matter of breaking it down like in the map, Foreman said.
“We thought, ‘What would it look like if we did green infrastructure under the “L” tracks?’ ‘How can we absorb so much of the stormwater we get?’ We’ve planted prairie plants, thought about phytoremediation, stormwater capture,” said Foreman, who also serves as president and CEO of the Emerald South Economic Development Collaborative.
Foreman sees Overton as providing an opportunity to educate. It put up signs explaining what the rainwater garden is, how it works and how people can create one at home.
“Something like this shows that our communities are worthy of these kinds of projects. This can be a demonstration for the other kinds of development that can take place. And the rain garden is beautiful,” Foreman said.
Food Matters founder Laurie Ouding is using her grant to support marketing and technical support for her healthy food incubator at 435 E. 43rd St.
The $8 million incubator is still in the pre-development phase, but Ouding said she is working to raise awareness of the project to secure more funding.
Ouding, a nurse, envisions the incubator as having a year-round farmers market, shared commercial kitchens and a community gathering space centered around nutrition and access.
The project has the support of Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) and Hanna Architects, who will help with the design. Ouding said she also has interest from vendors and people from the community who want to be in the space, which is near the 43rd Street Green Line station.
For Ouding, raising awareness of climate change — and building the incubator with that issue in mind — is important.
“A big part of Food Matters’ mission is to address that: how the building is constructed, how it’s put onto the land, having parking spaces with charging stations and indoor bike storage,” Ouding said. “We want to encourage everyone to do what we need to do to address the climate issues.”
‘Thrive As A Global City’
Other projects that got a share of $160,000 from the city grant program include an affordable housing development in Logan Square and a food hall in East Garfield Park, each group receiving up to $20,000.
The city’s goal was to bring more resources and economic developments near transit stations to under-invested areas, particularly those on the South and West sides.
Supporting projects like Overton and Food Matters can level the economic playing field and boost social justice initiatives, said Roberto Requejo, executive director of Elevated Chicago. His group — a coalition of nonprofits dedicated to building communities around public transit — is working with Overton and Food Matters.
Requejo said projects focused on health and sustainability must be the priority for underserved communities. Soaring gas costs, rising temperatures and floods can harm already vulnerable neighborhoods, he said.
“If we want to survive and thrive as a global city, we have to tackle climate change head-on,” Requejo said. “Emissions from transportation are a huge cause of climate change issues. … Both development-related and transportation-related pollution in the city comes from development that has been very much car-oriented.”
Requejo said Food Matters and Overton illustrate what happens when cities invest in community-driven initiatives. Elevated Chicago has collaborated with similar groups across the country to share best practices, and he’s hopeful the city will use the pilot program as a template to fully fund these types of projects long-term.
Transit-centric development “can offset up to 30 percent of our greenhouse emissions, help with high temperatures and air pollution. … It’s not just about the flooding, it’s about finding ways to make our neighborhoods cooler while avoiding physical and mental health issues,” Requejo said.
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