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Driving down Emerson Street, it is difficult to notice a playground with giraffe heads poking out of the top. But, after taking a look around Gilbert Park, it is clear that this park is anything but ordinary.

Gilbert Park is named after Charles J. Gilbert, a real estate developer and the first president of the Village Board of Trustees. From a first look, Gilbert Park looks like any old playground. There are slides, swings, and other typical playground equipment. However, past the playground there is a map on the ground of Africa.  

This map is difficult to notice. It is located in the back of the park, and the color of the map blends in with the concrete to a certain extent. But this map is very significant and recognizes Africa in the Evanston community. It took precision and care to create, but it resulted in a great product.

“Scale was of utmost importance. In order to obtain the greatest accuracy, workers spent almost four days following a detailed plan to set up a string grid on 4-foot centers, and then framed the continent using Masonite (bendable) forms,” says a staff member of the Concrete Construction Staff.

The map consists of many of the major landmarks of Africa such as the Nile River, the Sahara Desert, and Mount Kilimanjaro. It gives a good sense of the geography of Africa, which is rarely taught in schools.

This map was created in 2006, but Gilbert Park was recently renovated with a new sign on April 28. Gilbert Park is one of the few places in Evanston that gives recognition to Africa and African culture.  

“It links residents to ancestors that were brought across the ocean long ago to the U.S.,” says local activist Betty Ester.  

Despite the possible replacement of Gilbert Park by Emerson Square Park, Gilbert Park will remain as is for the time being, according to Director of Parks, Recreation, and Community Services Lawrence Hemingway.