100,000 tulip bulbs to be planted on South Side vacant lots

The public work orchestrated by Chicago artist Amanda Williams aims to redefine redlining in Washington Park.

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Chicago artist Amanda Williams, right, and Ghian Foreman, president and CEO of the Emerald South Economic Development Collaborative, in front the Washington Park lots before they were planted with tulips as part of Williams’ work “Redefining Redlining.”

Chicago artist Amanda Williams, right, and Ghian Foreman, president and CEO of the Emerald South Economic Development Collaborative, in front of a lot that will be planted with tulips.

Brian Rich/Sun-Times

Green Line riders passing by Washington Park this weekend should look for a bustle of activity down below.

Several vacant lots around Prairie Avenue and 53rd Street are being turned over on Saturday, and 100,000 red tulip bulbs will be planted. Late this week, there were stakes in place, outlining where the bulbs will go.

From ground level, it’s hard to tell, but seen from the L, it becomes apparent the tulips are being planted with a bigger picture in mind.

“We’re planting the tulips in the shape of houses that should exist,” said Amanda Williams, the artist behind the project.

From 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Williams and a crew of supporters from the Emerald South Economic Development Collaborative will be on site, planting the bulbs.

They are inviting volunteers to pitch in. Some tools will be available, but volunteers are asked to bring their own. No registration is necessary, though volunteers can RSVP online.

There will be free food, a DJ and kids activities hosted by Chicago Mobile Makers, a nonprofit that brings architecture workshops to children.

By evoking the buildings that once stood on the empty lots, the work is intended to spark conversation.

“Imagine the block if all this still existed. Imagine the families that would have lived here,” said Williams, who earlier this week was named one of this year’s MacArthur fellows.

The $47,000 worth of tulips mainly come from Holland, organizers said.

They were given permission to use the land by its owner, who didn’t want to be named.

Titled “Redefining Redlining,” the work aims to spark conversation around the disempowerment of Black neighborhoods that followed from banks refusing to lend to residents.

A team of graduate students from the Illinois Institute of Technology is still researching what stood on the land. So far, they know it was a mix of single-family homes and apartment buildings, like the one still standing on the northeast corner of the block.

The full impact of the project won’t be seen until the tulips bloom in the spring.

“Around April, May it’s gonna be a sea of red, and it’s going to let us have conversations about what we want for our communities,” said Ghian Foreman, the president and CEO of Emerald South, a South Side development group.

He hopes it inspires a new generation of artists and makes the area a destination.

“You won’t even think of it as vacant land, you’ll think of it as a flower farm,” he said, imagining couples taking wedding photos there or families gathering flowers to set on kitchen tables.

Dirt being tilled in an empty lot near the intersection of S. 53rd Street and Prairie Avenue where 100,00 tulips will be planted. Thursday, October 13, 2022.

An empty lot near 53rd Street and Prairie Avenue is will be planted with 100,00 tulips.

Brian Rich/Sun-Times

Michael Loria is a staff reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times via Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster the paper’s coverage of communities on the South and West sides.

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