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Senn Park Unity Garden

Summer, 2008

Principle: You can't do it alone

Senn Park Unity GardenIn 1996, the lot on Thorndale Avenue where Senn Park Unity Garden now stands was a vacant lot covered with brambly plants, weeds and trash. Today, this lot is filled with community gardening plots for residents to use and an earthen berm/performance space the diverse Chicago North Side neighborhood of Edgewood embraces and utilizes. The success of the garden has much to do with how it was planned.

The creation of Senn Park Unity Garden can be attributed to community participation throughout the entire planning process. During the winter of 1996, representatives from the Chicago Park District gathered high school students, neighbors, families, seniors, and block clubs to community meetings that focused on what the neighborhood wanted out the space. Through these meetings, the community agreed on a site that featured an earthen berm "bench" where people could perform or sit and enjoy the space, and a dozen community garden plots. By the time spring rolled around, when the ground began to thaw, residents were armed with a plan for a community garden.

During the spring and summer, people of all ages spent their Saturdays clearing the site of garbage and debris. Teens from the youth outreach program Alternatives helped landscape the garden. Children from the Broadway Armory's Day Camp and Senn YouthNet assisted with plantings and watering the new trees and shrubs. All 12 of the raised beds were filled by local residents, who grow everything from herbs to potatoes. The site was selected as a Gallery 37 in the Parks site and Mirtes Zirwinski, a mosaic artist, and Chet Jakus, a landscape architect, worked with more than 50 Senn High School students to design and install mosaics, a totem, and the landscaping.

Senn Park Unity Garden

In 2004, due to high demand, six more beds were added to the garden. Jane Schenk, who oversees the coordination of the community gardening plots as the Gardening Program Specialist for the Chicago Park District, said, "All of the gardeners know each other because they see each other on a regular basis. Almost all of the current gardeners live within a four-block radius of the park."

By inviting the community into the design and creation of the garden and encouraging them to take ownership of it, a space was created that the community feels connected to and uses. As Bonnie Tawse, former project manager for Senn Park Unity Garden, said, "It is this human connection to this small, little space that means so much to residents."