The strip of grass between a building and the sidewalk is technically owned by the City of Chicago. Although the parkway is owned by the City it is the responsibility of the property owner to maintain it.
These parkways are as diverse as the neighborhoods they are in and range from elaborately planted gardens to wastelands where even grass won't grow.
When they are planted or grass is maintained the City looks the other way but if the area becomes overgrown the City can fine the property owner adjacent to the parkway.
From time to time neighborhood feuds erupt over this strip of grass and trees because dogs use it to eliminate waste or kids run around in it. Sometimes, as has recently happened in Rogers Park, a garden planted in the area becomes the center of controversy where the police and even the Alderman have to step in. Rather than rehash the story here I'll direct you to the blog entry on Lake Effect News and you can read the gory details for yourself. You can also get the perspective of the person who started the garden by reading his thoughts on the garden and what happened on his blog.
I'm not going to choose a side in this fight because from my readings (and from emails I've exchanged with a couple of people) I can see that people feel really hurt. The garden in question is scheduled to be dismantled at the end of this month and the parkway is to be returned to the state it was in before the garden was installed. I'm sorry to hear things escalated to the point they did with these neighbors and while I'm not anti-grass I'm sorry to hear grass will replace the beginnings of a garden.
While reading about this drama I remembered that when I attended the urban beekeeping lecture I got the chance to meet Bonnie Tawse the Coordinator of Environmental Programs for the City of Chicago. Last month I had the opportunity to exchange emails with Sue Markgraf, President & Co-Founder of GreenMark Public Relations, who works on behalf of The Lurie Garden at Millennium Park.
I thought of them because The Lurie Garden had been mentioned and sort of the inspiration behind the garden in Rogers Park. I started to think that it would make things a lot easier if landscape designs and a planting list were made available to Chicagoans who wanted to plant in the parkway with native plants who perhaps weren't seasoned gardeners but were inspired by The Lurie Garden to go native. To people who haven't been exposed to native plants a native plant garden can look like a bunch of ordinary weeds, but if The Lurie Garden made landscape drawings and an artist rendition of what a parkway planted in the style of The Lurie Garden would looks like once in bloom or mature, it would go along way to educating homeowners who fear a decline in property values when they see native plants going in. Nobody who has been to The Lurie Garden could ever say the plants there look like weeds.
The use of native plants in a spaces like our parkways makes a lot of sense because it requires little watering from the property owner adjacent to the parkway and keeps a fair amount of waste water out of the sewers. Hopefully something comes of my plea for some help or direction for Chicago green thumbs in the making.
Personally, I'd love to see mini-Lurie Gardens throughout Chicago's neighborhoods.
To learn about stormwater management check out the The Green Values® Stormwater Toolbox and the Center for Neighborhood Technology. If you'd like a tree planted in the parkway in front of your house you can call 3-1-1 and make a request. To see an example of what NOT to do with a parkway see the Raised Decorative Planters: Good Intentions Gone Bad PDF.