Sometimes community blossoms amid dead ends. In a process Dickelle Fonda calls “great community-building,” residents of the Dempster/Dodge Community have come together to spearhead a project to re-landscape six dead ends – half a dozen neglected neighborhood cul-de-sacs –
The revamped cul-de-sacs “should be an even more startling change” than the 52 corner plantings neighbors oversaw in 2008, says Julie Westbrook, who heads the West Crown Park Neighbors group within the larger Westside Dempster/Dodge
This second round of neighborhood improvements follows last year’s four projects: the corner facelifts, support for the Latino soccer team and purchase of reusable shopping bags and bicycle helmets for children.
All are funded through an account established by Evanston Plaza developers.
When the late Alderman Dennis Drummer negotiated an agreement with the redevelopers of the Evanston Plaza shopping mall in 1999, he was “concerned about the encroachment of business on the neighborhood,” says Ms. Fonda of the Dewey/Darrow Neighbors. “It was a mitigation fund” — insurance against whatever infrastructure damage might result when business met residential neighborhood.
As per the agreement, Freed & Associates in 1999 began contributing $20,000 each year to the account. It reached full funding – $20,000 – last year, and “no cracks” had developed, says Ms. Fonda.
So the mitigation fund “became the Neighborhood Improvement Fund (NIF),” she says. And the Dempster/Dodge community became the decision-makers on how to spend the money, subject to City Council approval.
Five neighborhood organizations are active within the boundaries of the impacted area:Greenwood Street
to the north;Lee Street
to the south;Florence Avenue
to the east andHartrey Avenue
to the west.
In addition to Dewey/Darrow and West Crown Park neighbors, the groups include the Florence/Crain, Greenwood, andLake Street
(sometimes called Penny Park) neighbors, says Ms. Westbrook.
Interested residents held meetings “over a couple years” to discuss and plan, says Ms. Fonda. Ms. Westbrook credits the Dewey/Darrow group for “keeping it going.” Potential projects must meet four criteria: Each needed to improve the neighborhood, to be long-lasting, to be enjoyable by everyone in the neighborhood and to be ineligible for funding from other sources.
In a thoroughly democratic process, all neighbors received notice of meetings by flyer or e-mail and “everyone had a chance to vote,” Ms. Fonda says.
The winning proposal, perennial plantings on 52 corners with funds to cover maintenance for two or three years, was submitted to three landscapers for bids. Most responsive – with an underbid of $2,000 on the $81,000 estimate – was Evanston‘s Nature’s Perspective.
With the leftover money Ms. Westbrook suggested planting the daffodil, scilla and grape hyacinth bulbs that lit up the corners this spring. “People are so excited” about the results, says Ms. Fonda. “It makes you happy.”
Summer-flowering sage and catmint, along with other rainbow-colored perennials, will succeed the spring bulbs. And despite the warnings of a few naysayers, Ms. Fonda says, “Kids are respectful of it. We haven’t lost any plants.” Chicagoland Gardening magazine has expressed interest in this “cutting-edge urban streetscape program,” she says.
The Dempster/Dodge neighbors presented their 2009 proposal to the City’s Economic Development Committee in April. It calls for cleaning up and replanting six untended cul-de-sacs the neighbors call “an embarrassment to residents of those streets and to the City.”
The targeted cul-de-sacs are located at the following intersections: 1200 Darrow/alley; Lee/Grey; Lee/Brown; Crain/Hartrey; Greenwood/Dodge; and Greenwood/Darrow.
The City “has no policy for fixing” cul-de-sacs as they age, says Ms. Fonda. Their unwritten assumption – not one all neighbors share – has been that people whose property abuts the cul-de-sacs would tend them. “When trees die, that’s a major expense,” she says.
Ms. Westbrook, who has lived next to a tattered cul-de-sac for 11 years, says they have “worked and worked on it” – with meager results. “It will be wonderful to get help with a re-design and redevelopment,” she says.
The $22,789.52 proposal outlines a plan “to repair and upgrade all of the cul-de-sacs with new greenery where needed and with perennial plants.” Nature’s Perspective won the contract with a plan to install vigorous materials – native grasses and perennial daylilies, sedum and catmint; dwarf lilac, viburnum and arborvitae bushes – and a few crabapple trees as focal points.
The proposal also allocates funds for Nature’s Perspective to maintain the plantings for two or three years, after which the areas will be “turned back to the City,” says Ms. Westbrook.
About 1,000 households had a chance to “put their heads together” to choose and implement the projects, she says, adding, “What was great about working on what to do with the money was that after the proposals were written down, we got the approval of more than 90 percent of those who voted. I am surprised and gladdened that the vast majority of us seemed happy about the proposals.”
The leaders hope the idea spreads.
“We were fortunate to have the funding,” says Ms. Fonda. “But a neighborhood could take on [a project like ours]. I
hope it catches on. It could be a great
community project. It’s how communities are supposed to work.”