ROSELAND — A park that will serve Far South Side communities opened with a ribbon cutting ceremony Saturday.
POP! Heights Park, 11227 S. Halsted Ave., is the first new park along South Halsted Street in more than 50 years, said Elizabeth Neukirch, a spokesperson for the Far South Community Development Corporation. With 22,000 square feet of multi-use outdoor space, it’s the largest of the city’s 12 Public Outdoor Program, or POP!, parks, which are designed to help community groups revitalize underutilized land along neighborhood retail corridors through Mayor Lightfoot’s Chicago Recovery Plan.
Far South Community Development Corporation and nearby Sheldon Heights Church of Christ partnered tho develop the park, which will serve Roseland, Morgan Park and West Pullman.
Katanya Raby, director of planning at the Far South Community Development Corporation, called the park “a labor of love.”
“POP! Heights Park is a beautiful realization of seeing the community’s needs being met,” Raby said at the ribbon cutting.
The park’s grand opening was attended by local political leaders, community groups, business owners, neighbors and church members.
Neighbors played on the newly built basketball half court, enjoyed the walking, exercise and roller-skating path and got refreshments from local restaurants. There was a DJ, live music, face painting, a bounce house and more.
Raby, who wore roller skates to invite neighbors to skate in the park, said during his remarks that crews were finishing details at the park as early as 3 a.m. that day.
The Far South Community Development Corporation developed POP! Heights Park through its Bringing Communities Back Initiative, which aims to repurpose nearly 1 million square feet in dilapidated community areas into neighborhood anchor points to fuel economic growth and repopulation on the Far South Side, Neukirch said.
The park has a mural by artist Amoz Wright on the side of neighboring day care Me and You Learning Academy, a stage for performances, tree-filled seating areas with moveable blocks, a shared stage for performances, a community garden and space for markets, Neukirch said. A swing set, playhouse and other recreational features will be added in the future, Raby said.
Abraham Lacy, the president and CEO of the Far South Community Development Corporation, said the organization is working on getting funding to add a 10-foot-tall fence to separate the park from a nearby alley, plus more signs, painting and banners.
Lacy said the area on South Halsted Street, which was once a vacant lot, was an ideal location for a park due to its proximity to public transportation and the street’s status as a main neighborhood thoroughfare. The street is a focus for the Far South Community Development Corporation, whose leaders hope it can be “an amenity-driven location where people can have fun, have leisure, enjoy, live,” Lacy said.
Morgan Park resident Maurice Chambers said they were happy to see the park open.
“I think it will serve the community very well,” Chambers said. “A lot of people walk through, so now they can come out, walk the little track and enjoy themselves.”
Leonardo D. Gilbert, the longtime pastor for Sheldon Heights Church of Christ, said he and members of his church congregation are happy to be able to add value to their community.
“We feel that either we are part of the solution, or we are the problem,” Gilbert said. “We’ve all got to actually do what we can to make this a safer community, a community that feels some normalcy, where kids can come out and play, where people can have a moment where they don’t have to worry about the challenges that are in our city.”
POP! Heights Park was designed by the Lamar Johnson Collaborative, a Chicago-based architecture firm that is working on five of the city’s POP! parks. Lesley Roth, a principal with the collaborative, said it was a challenge to fit the $540,000 budget for such a large park. Roth said POP! Heights Park is “transformational” for the community.
“We’ve not seen this type of investment in so long, and so to be able to watch all of this unfold and see the excitement and just the joy in people’s eyes as they step into this space is really, really meaningful and powerful,” Raby said. “This space here is the catalyst to the next thing to come and so we know that this community is really going to thrive.”
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