Places and people in “Historic Gardens of North Lawndale” video

October 25, 2020 – 2pm

West Gardens map by Odile Compagnon

Program Description

  • Intro description 

This tour of nine beautiful and bountiful community gardens demonstrates how green infrastructure contributes to North Lawndale’s quality of life by improving its Open Space, Water, Soil and Sustainability.

  • Long Description 

North Lawndale residents and community members guide you through nine of the 50+ community gardens that dot their neighborhood, on the West Side of Chicago, where empty lots used to be. These beautiful havens offer neighbors a place to share gardening skills but also an outdoor public ground for peace circles, storytelling, outdoor recess, art, and music events. They speak about the people who have made the rich history of North Lawndale and about those who are steering its community toward a safer, more sustainable future. Each individual garden has its own traits and together they create a new ecosystem at the neighborhood scale, where plants, pollinators, and gardeners help each other, mutually. 

This presentation would not be possible without the legacy of all those who got together in the 1980s and started to transform the lots made vacant by the City of Chicago. Their incredible initiative is illustrated in the video of a North Lawndale Greening Committee Garden Tour that took place in 2007. Produced by Judith Helfand and Rebecca Parrish, it is an homage to the trailblazers who made it possible for the following nine gardens to be what they are today: 

The nine gardens are:

Homan Rails Farm, 910 S. Homan Ave., Chicago, IL 60624. Opened in 2015.

A 2019 Garden Grant recipient, Homan Rails Farm is on an old rail line that once serviced Sears, Roebuck and Co. and is currently managed by Gardeneers, a Chicago nonprofit providing full-service, customized school garden programs. This large green space is approximately 5,000 square feet and includes five hoop houses and ten raised beds. With a mission of serving the North Lawndale community, Homan Rails Farm has created successful collaborations for education, work, and healthy eating. 

PermaPark, 1322 S. Pulaski Road, Chicago, IL 60623. Opened in 2018.

The CCA Academy Food Forest, PermaPark generates individual and community wellbeing by creating opportunities to celebrate and learn from the natural world. Permaculture reminds us to take care of each other and our planet, making sure there is enough air, water, land, and food to keep everyone happy and healthy. CCA Academy students, staff, and faculty are using permaculture principles to design their food forest.

PermaPark occupies seven empty lots along Pulaski Road, an important North/South “mile street”. Previously named Crawford Avenue, it used to be lined with two-story brick commercial buildings that included a living unit above the store: a traditional Chicago vernacular commonly built at the end of the 19th century, of which a few examples remain around PermaPark.
CCA Academy maintains a blog providing history and updates on PermaPark.

One Straw Community Garden, 3341 W. Douglas Blvd., Chicago, IL 60623. Opened in 2012.

The One Straw Community Garden is a Certified Wildlife Habitat and is a permaculture garden based on the “do nothing” philosophy of Japanese naturalist, Masanobu Fukuoka. His idea was to work with nature instead of against it, doing as little as possible to alter a site and instead tend to a site rather than imposing one’s will onto it. The first third of One Straw is a wild habitat and becomes a more cultivated fruit orchard as one moves towards the rear of the garden. 

One Straw is part of a block-wide revitalization community-led project around three historic grey-stone two-flat buildings along Douglas Boulevard. It is overseen by Annamaria Leon of Homan Grown.

Spaulding Memorial Garden, 1581 S. Spaulding Ave., Chicago, IL 60623. Opened in 2017.

Until a few years ago, the Spaulding Memorial Garden at 16th Street and Spaulding Avenue was just a big vacant lot. Now, it is one of Gardeneers’ North Lawndale school gardens, a sunny, buzzing green space designed to give students in food insecure communities equal access to healthy fruits and vegetables. 

Spaulding Memorial Garden is located on the north side of 16th Street, an East/West “half-mile street.” As such, it used to be lined with proximity retail and commercial buildings which have mostly disappeared due to over fifty years of neighborhood disinvestment. New green infrastructures and ecological landscape are giving 16th Street a new dynamic and help it regain its pedestrian friendliness. As an example, Spaulding Memorial Garden serves as the host site for the Lawndale Pop-Up Spot, a community museum in a repurposed shipping container.

Stone Temple Peace Heritage Garden, 3618 W. Douglas Blvd., Chicago, IL 60623. Opened in 2017.

Beginning in February of 2019, the Chicago Sinai Congregation joined with the Historic Stone Temple Baptist Church in North Lawndale to create a community garden and education center.  They have worked with Associate Pastor Reshorna Fitzpatrick, church elders, and neighbors to transform a neglected city lot near the church into a growing area for organic vegetables and flowers, as well as a community gathering and educational space.  All produce grown is offered at no cost to people from North Lawndale. This has been a joyful endeavor and a close partnership to build colorful raised garden beds. 

The garden is adjacent to the church, located in a historic building that was once a synagogue, the former Anshe Roumania, Shaari Shomayim aka The Romanian Shul, before becoming Stone Temple Missionary Baptist. It hosted Dr. Martin Luther King in 1966. The church building is a designated Chicago Landmark, one of the best preserved of the remaining big North Lawndale synagogues turned churches. 

MLK District Garden, 3732 W. 16th St., Chicago, IL 60623. Opened in 2015.

Residents who participated in a discussion about beautification, clean up and greening initiatives in the neighborhood wanted to see a garden on 16th Street, next to where Martin Luther King lived when he moved to Chicago with his family in January 1966. The MLK District Garden is a permaculture designed space that incorporates production gardens, fruit orchards, and small farm animal management. Proceeds from the sale of produce generated from the garden are used to maintain the horticulture training and development programs that are given at the site to the North Lawndale community at large. The building where Martin Luther King lived no longer exists and was replaced by the Dr. King Legacy Apartments, affordable rental units, and the MLK Fair Housing Exhibit Center, which represent the first phase, designed by Johnson & Lee Architects, of the MLK District built to honor Dr. King’s work to promote fair housing.
MLK District Garden is managed by the North Lawndale Greening Committee.

Betty Swan Community Arboretum, 3840 W. Arthington St., Chicago, IL 60623. Opened in 2000.

Formerly the Arthington Senior Garden, the Betty Swan Community Arboretum is a combination of five vacant lots with an array of shrubs, perennials, and trees. This garden is now a tree park to be used as a “living laboratory” and teaching tool for area school science projects. 

The arboretum is located in the center of a residential street lined with 19th century greystone two-flat buildings, typical of the Chicago West Side neighborhoods. The arboretum is managed by the North Lawndale Greening Committee and protected by NeighborSpace.

Sears Sunken Garden, 899 S. Homan Ave., Chicago, IL 60623. Opened in 1907.

The Sears, Roebuck and Co. park, commonly known as the “sunken garden,” occupies a rectangular plot along the north side of W. Arthington St. between S. Homan Ave. and S. Spaulding Ave., just north of the former Administration Building and the Printing/Merchandise Development and Laboratory (MDL) Building. The sunken garden was completed around 1907 shortly after Sears’ North Lawndale complex opened. It received Historic Landmark status from the City of Chicago in 2014 and is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The centerpiece of the garden is its Classical-inspired pergola, located along the north edge of the garden and symmetrically aligned with the Administration Building’s main entrance just south of the garden. The pergola centered within the sunken garden was designed by Nimmons & Fellows as part of the Sears campus. Its wood beams are supported by colonnades of Doric columns and balanced at each end by two Doric temple pavilions clad in white stucco and topped with red clay-tile roofs. The pergola remains intact, as do the garden’s original concrete planting urns that mark entries to the garden. Though the garden’s original fountains and ponds have been filled in, surviving original concrete walks and flower bed locations still express the garden’s original design, which Nimmons thought important to the quality of life of Sears, Roebuck and Co. employees.

The Sears Sunken Garden is managed by the Foundation for Homan Square.

African Heritage Garden, 1245 S. Central Park Ave., Chicago, IL 60623. Opened in 2001.

The African Heritage Garden is located on a parcel comprising four city lots at the corner of South Central Park Avenue and 12th Place in North Lawndale. The development of the African Heritage Garden began on March 28, 2001 with a community wide research project, a design charrette, an artwork research project, and a gardening research project covering African plants. The African Heritage Garden has a large flower bed in the center, formed into the shape of the African continent with landscaping bricks. 

In 2005, the Chicago Council of Elders blessed the African Heritage Garden with a traditional African Ceremony. During this ceremony the garden was recognized as an “official” place of culture and community. The Council of Elders granted permission to establish the garden as a family place of enjoyment, education, and culture.

The garden is set along Central Park avenue, an important North/South “mile street” whose street-corners used to be occupied by three-story brick apartment buildings, built at the turn of the century, most of which have been demolished following disinvestment in the neighborhood. A few beautiful examples remain within a block or two of the African Heritage Garden. The African Heritage Garden is protected by NeighborSpace

  • Speaker Bios 

Selma Sims, agronomist and the manager of Homan Rails Farm, has developed and implemented science lessons based on the farm. Once a week, students work on the farm during their biology class.

Dr. Myra Samson Ed.D. Principal & Chief Education Officer of  CCA Academy. She founded CCA in 1978. Chicago’s Expo for Today’s Black Woman honored her as the 2004 Phenomenal Woman in Community Service. 

Nancy Zook has worked in the North Lawndale community for the past 12 years. She directs the sustainability, art and urban agriculture programming at CCA Academy, a campus of Youth Connection Charter School.

Annamaria Leon is a certified Permaculture Designer and Teacher, Co-Owner of Homan Grown, L3C, a social enterprise focused on propagating urban durable perennials, and on creating regenerative edible and ornamental landscapes. 

Brittany Harthan  is an educator and grower from the Chicagoland area. She studied Environmental Education at Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago and Present Tense Farm in the Seattle area. She believes experiential learning and teaching about growing food, herbs and flowers can help repair relationships with land, as well as help create opportunities for Chicagoans, while bringing joy through the love of the growing process.

Pastor Reshorna M. Fitzpatrick is the founder and Pastor of Stone Temple Missionary Baptist Church, a 501c3 organization with a mission of faithfully caring for families and the earth. 

Dr. Shemuel Israel’s area of special interest is soil health, plant health, and human health. Dr. Israel currently serves as the president of the North Lawndale Greening Committee, serves on the board of NeighborSpace, and serves as a chapter leader mentor for the Chicago Chapter of the Bionutrient Food Association. 

Karen B. Castleberry, a true humanitarian, a caregiver, mother of two adopted children and a foster mother, is very active in the North Lawndale Neighborhood where she was born and reared.

Blanche Killingsworth is the chairwoman of the North Lawndale Historical and Cultural Society, a North Lawndale resident since 1962 she worked at the Sears complex as a teenager.

  • Movie Production

Simeon Frierson is a cinematographer and photographer in Chicago. He is the founder of Visual Manifesto, LLC. He loves being behind and in front of the camera, expressing himself through visual art.

Jay Simon grew up Outwest and currently resides in North Lawndale. Jay Simon Photography is a portrait, architecture, and lifestyle photography and curation studio. Jay enjoys documenting and capturing vulnerable candid moments. He appreciates the people he meets, the places he goes, the hours he keeps and the spontaneity in every shot.

Jonathan Kelley is the co-founder of the Lawndale Pop-Up Spot, a neighborhood museum inside a shipping container at the Spaulding Memorial Garden, 16th & Spaulding. 

  • Moderator 

Odile Compagnon is a licensed architect with a practice, Odile Compagnon Architect,  in Chicago and in Paris, France as well as a professorship at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC), in the Department of Architecture, Interior Architecture and Designed Objects. She has taught classes at SAIC’s North Lawndale campus where her students have engaged in meaningful design collaborations with neighborhood organizations. As a design advisor to the North Lawndale Community Coordinating Council (NLCCC)’s Greening Open Space, Water, Soil and Sustainability committee, Odile creates blueprints and drawings that speak about the community’s strong vision and intentional purpose.

This video and program are dedicated to the memory of the beautiful Aaliyah Benka.

PermaPark, August 2018


Hear from North Lawndale residents about the positive impact more than 50 community gardens are making in their West Side neighborhood.

October 25, 2020
2:00 pm
Zoom Virtual Event (details to come)

This program will be hosted on Zoom. Approximately 3 hours before the start of the program, you will receive a link directly from Zoom with details about how to access and view it.

If you do not receive your link 2 hours prior to the start of the event, please contact Please note, if you do not contact us at least 30 minutes prior to the start of the program, we cannot guarantee admittance.

Discover the stories behind empty North Lawndale lots that have become beautiful havens for residents to share gardening skills and gather outdoors for peace circles, storytelling, art and music events and outdoor recess. This discussion will highlight nine of the more than 50 community gardens in the neighborhood and examine how they are steering North Lawndale toward a safer, more sustainable future.

Community members will share their experiences working in the gardens as well as the impact of the gardens on the North Lawndale community.


Odile Compagnon is a licensed architect with a practice in Chicago and Paris, France, as well as a professorship at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC), in the Department of Architecture, Interior Architecture and Designed Objects. She has taught classes at SAIC’s North Lawndale campus, where her students have engaged in meaningful design collaborations with neighborhood organizations. As a design advisor to the North Lawndale Community Coordinating Council (NLCCC)’s Greening Open Space, Water, Soil and Sustainability committee, Odile creates blueprints and drawings that speak about the community’s strong vision and intentional purpose.

  • Ticket sales for CAC Live end three hours prior to the event.
  • Events are Central Daylight Time

North Lawndale Employment Network E-Learning and COVID-19 Community Survey Results

We are pleased to share with you the results of the first COVID-19 NLEN client survey, prepared by Director of Evaluation, Adam Levine.

Frontline employees and program directors wanted to better understand, challenge or confirm assumptions about the impact that program modifications have had on U-Turn Permitted job readiness program and READI, participants, as a result of COVID-19.

As we seek to expand the pathways in how to serve the most vulnerable in our community, we will utilize this survey and other feedback tools to further inform how we deliver programs and services today and tomorrow, after the pandemic. 

Here a few initial highlights:

73% said this was their first e-Learning experience

73% said they had all the necessary technology they needed

• Computers/laptop were the most in-need technology

About one-quarter prefer e-Learning (28) | nearly half prefer in-person (49%)

Aspects of e-Learning people like:

• Convenience | flexibility | accessibility | something new | reduced costs (transportation) | being at home | off the streets | freeing up time (transportation)

Aspects of e-Learning people don’t like:

• Human connection and interaction | Less individual focus | not being in the classroom | network

Connectivity issues | less depth of conversation | getting ‘up and going’ | privacy concerns

Chicago Furniture Bank is looking to hire a Development & Communications Director

The Chicago Furniture Bank is a 501c3 nonprofit whose mission is to provide dignity, stability and comfort to Chicagoans moving into supportive housing by allowing them to handpick furnishings for their entire home.

Since opening in July of 2018, the CFB has furnished 1,550 homes for 4,100 people, distributing 28,000 pieces of furniture (800 tons). We currently furnish 8 homes per day and have 22 full-time employees (75% being hired through nonprofit workforce development agencies). The CFB is a rapidly growing organization that plans to continue to expand into 2020.

As a young and growing organization, they are looking for a person for an executive role who is passionate about the mission and wants to continue to improve/grow the organization.

To learn more:

Notes from NLCCC Comments for the November 14th CTA Board Meeting

I had an opportunity to attend the November 14, 2016 CTA Board meeting and testify during the public hearing on the 2017 budget. There were 5 people from the NLCCC in attendance including myself. Three of the 5 were from the Transportation Subcommittee, and 2 were from the Economic Development Subcommittee. I didn’t have the opportunity to prepare written testimony, but I will share my recap below.

I introduced myself as a member of the North Lawndale Community Coordinating Council, a group charged with facilitating community planning for the North Lawndale community. I indicated that this was our first comprehensive plan in 58 years, and that transportation is an integral part.

We are working with CMAP, and that, while we have not yet begun planning in earnest, we have received a draft of our existing conditions report. Data gleaned from the report suggest that between 2010 and now North Lawndale ridership on the Pink and Blue lines increased at a significantly faster level than the citywide average. North Lawndale ridership on the Pink Line increased by 26.2%. Blue Line ridership from North Lawndale increased by 19.4%. Citywide, ridership increased by 14.6%. In spite of the fact that ridership in North Lawndale grew faster than city averages, 9 stations were closed on the Blue Line east of Austin, 5 of which serve North Lawndale, Austin, East Garfield Park and West Garfield Park. (Figures on closed stations from Thom Alcazar, a local business owner who is looking to open a new grocery store on the West Side). CTA has effectively created an express line where they “fly over” predominantly African American communities on the West Side, while providing local service to communities beyond ours to the east and in the Western Suburbs. We admonished the CTA Board that, while they lobby for increased state and federal funds, they also address the apparent inequities in their transit service to local communities.

We respectfully requested that the closed stops be restored, particularly in light of our planning process, and the Mayor has designated one of our industrial corridors as a Manufacturing Growth Zone. You can’t attract employers that will hire locally if local residents can’t access public transit near work in their own communities.

North Lawndale is more dependent on public transportation than the average community in Chicago. While bus ridership declined system wide, our bus ridership has been steady on most lines, with a few lines losing ridership. Even when we lost ridership, it hasn’t been as low as city averages. (Bus ridership citywide has decreased 10% while bus ridership for North Lawndale has declined 3%) Yet, the Ogden bus stops at California, and doesn’t go further into the neighborhood. About 2 miles of Ogden Avenue between California and City Limits has no bus service. (This is essentially the width of the community from east to west)

There have been a number of developments along Ogden Avenue that were not in place when the service was cut. Impacted businesses and institutions include local schools (Collins, Crown, Legacy), Mount Sinai Hospital, Cinespace, Lagunita Brewery and Lawndale Christian Health Center. Residents have been cut off from efficient and safer routes to work, school and recreation. We respectfully requested that the Ogden bus line is restored to where it was before it was shortened. This would mean that the bus would run as far west as Pulaski, and turn around at the Pink Line Pulaski stop on 21st and Pulaski.

We expressed thanks and appreciation for programs like Second Chance, that provides training and employment opportunities at CTA for ex-offenders. (NLEN is a partner). However, we requested that CTA work with local community organizations to create opportunities for adults who would like to re-tool their skills and change careers. We also asked them to work with local schools to develop a curriculum and training programs to prepare our youth to work for CTA upon graduation from high school.

We noted that CTA is hosting a large scale city-wide procurement fair on November 15th at the Chicago Cultural Center Downtown. We asked the CTA Board to host a similar event in North Lawndale and offered to help coordinate it. We indicated that we wanted our focus to be employment (for people including ex-offenders, college graduates and career changers); procurement for small businesses and opportunities for local artists to have their work commissioned for bus and train stations.

In closing, we asked for a meeting with staff to share our plans and how we can incorporate transit into our strategies.

We were referred to Jeffrey Wilson, who works with CTA Intergovernmental Affairs. After the meeting, we were approached by Rev. Johnnie Miller to discuss our concerns in more detail.

I will debrief with members of the Executive Subcommittee and the Transportation Subcommittee, and set up meetings with Rev. Miller and Mr. Wilson.

Respectfully submitted,

Valerie F. Leonard

Valerie F. Leonard
Chair, Transportation Subcommittee
Member, Executive Subcommittee

RTA Regional Transit Public Hearing

We thank Charles Paidock, of Citizens Taking Action for Transit Dependent Riders, for the following announcement.

RTA Regional Transit Public Hearing, Wed., Nov. 30th, 4:00 PM, 175 W. Jackson, Chgo

RTA 2017 Proposed Regional Operating Budget & Capital Program Informational Presentation

Regional Transit 2017 Budget – Public Hearing
Regional Transportation Authority (RTA)
Wednesday, Nov. 30th, 4:00 to 6:00 PM
RTA Headquarters
175 W. Jackson Blvd., 16th Floor, Chicago

 Copy of the Budget Summary:
Summary of 2017 Proposed REGIONAL BUDGET AND CAPITAL PROGRAM CTA, Metra, Pace, ADA Paratransit, and RTA 2017 Budget Impact on RTA Customers The Service Boards …

Public comments may be submitted by email to


Informational Presentation


From Citizens Taking Action for transit dependent riders:

A citizens advocacy group for transit dependent riders in the Chicago, IL metropolitan area.

Photo Credit: RTA

From the Chicago Tribune: 10-year-old girl missing from Lawndale

Photo: Nariyah Wilson (Chicago Police Department)
The following article appeared in the Chicago Tribune November 7, 2016.

A 10-year-old girl has been missing from Lawndale since Saturday, police said.

Nariyah Wilson was last seen in the 1400 block of South Karlov Avenue wearing a white shirt, black leggings and black and white shoes.

She is a black girl standing 5 feet tall and weighing 120 pounds, police said. She has brown eyes and brown hair and a scar above her left eye.

Anyone with information is encouraged to call detectives at 312-747-8380.

Juvenile Protective Association Representatives Present Findings at the American Public Health Association’s Annual Meeting and Expo

We thank Rochelle Jackson, a member of our education and transportation subcommittees, for sharing the following information regarding JPA, one of our partnering organizations.

JPA congratulates Executive VP, Stephen Budde, Ph.D. and Akadia Kacha-Ochana, MPH, JPA’s Research and Quality Improvement Specialist, who were invited to present on their work “The Psychiatric Rehospitalization Outcomes for Children in Substitute Care” at the prestigious annual American Public Health Association’s Annual Meeting and Expo, held earlier this week on November 1st, 2016, Denver, CO.

Way to go, Steve & Akadia!!!