For the good of neighborhoods, city must fix vacant lot beautification program

We urge the city and its non-profit partners to straighten out this program so that it doesn’t become yet another broken promise to the South and West sides.

SHARE For the good of neighborhoods, city must fix vacant lot beautification program
This city-owned vacant lot at 1143 S. Mozart St. in North Lawndale has yet receive the beautification promised under the two-year-old Grounds for Peace program.

Manny Ramos/Sun-Times

We’re concerned that a $250,000 program to beautify 50 vacant city-owned lots in three neighborhoods has apparently gone sideways, with relatively little work done.

The pilot program, called Grounds for Peace, began in June 2019 with the task of training 40 “at-risk” men to maintain and landscape 50 lots in North Lawndale, Englewood and Woodlawn.

But as Sun-Times reporter Manny Ramos reported this week, only 35 lots have been identified — and just two of those have been beautified since the program began more than two years ago.

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We urge the city and its nonprofit partners in this venture — Rapid Employment and Development Initiative, and the Urban Growers Collective — to sit down and straighten out this program so that it doesn’t become yet another broken promise to the South and West sides.

An improved lot ‘makes a difference’

Grounds for Peace was announced with good intentions. The jobs-training aspect remains sorely needed on the South and West sides, where male unemployment is soaring.

And just the relatively small step of fixing up a vacant lot can help reduce crime by providing a civic space for a community.

“It’s hot, difficult work. I can tell you that,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot said at the public event that launched Grounds for Peace, recalling a summer she spent leading a crew cleaning vacant lots in her Massillon, Ohio, hometown.

“But it makes a difference in neighborhoods when people who are walking their dog, walking on the street, see that somebody has taken the time and effort to actually make the area around them look beautiful,” Lightfoot said.

But not much of that is happening under the Grounds for Peace program. While the city admits that it hasn’t identified all 50 lots for the program, its claim that 35 lots have been worked on also appears to fall short.

The Sun-Times visited those 35 lots and found only two have been fully beautified as promised. And those two lots — outfitted with mulch, fencing and raised planting beds — are next to each other in the 6000 block of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive.

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Meanwhile, some of the other lots in the program remain trash-strewn, while fallen branches litter others.

A city-owned parcel at 1143 S. Mozart St. that has spent two years on the Grounds for Peace list is untouched today. Several vehicles, including a small school bus, are parked on the lot.

We understand the city and nonprofits are dealing with monumental problems these days, with a global pandemic leading the list.

But these small interventions are still important, particularly in neighborhoods that have had to do without for so long.

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