Still more from the Summit …

Ben HelphandNot all the speakers at last weekend’s Midwest Urban Farmers Summit, were small independent groups just trying to coax a bunch of local vegetables out of the ground. There was also representation of more “connected” groups, such as NeighborSpace, which was created in 1996 by the joint efforts of the City of Chicago, Chicago Park District, and Forest Preserve District of Cook County, and is still over-seen by these entities, and a board which has input from several other government departments.

Also unlike many of the other presenters, the focus of NeighborSpace seems to be more into creating mini-parks on once-empty lots around the city, and operates via neighborhood groups asking if a particular piece of land could be improved in this manner. I used their site’s Google Maps link to take a “street view” of the few centrally-located projects they have, and all of these were lots with some landscaping and benches added. Ben Helphand, their Executive Director, indicated that there were some “farmed” gardens in the mix, however, among the 81 current locations (and 20 in development).

One of the things that most stood out in the presentation on NeighborSpace is that the organization ends up buying the plots of land … and according to the FAQ on the site, these have to have been already being used “informally” as neighborhood resources, and that NeighborSpace would be a way of protecting that (by making it a “park” or official garden) by acquiring the location in a land trust. This also meant that Helphand was talking a lot about functions that a lot of the smaller operators might have problems obtaining, such as insurance plans that spread across all the dozens of individual sites. It was noted that the pattern of locales where they had projects was somewhat opposite of the way that most “green resources” show up on the map, with most of them being in a band across the far west side of the city … but this was explained as being the areas that were used to looking to government services first.

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