Faced with a dearth of green space, residents of the Mayfair neighborhood in Albany Park came up with an interesting solution: turn a vacant lot into a park.
With assistance from the conservation organization Openlands, the Mayfair Civic Association is in the final stages of negotiating the acquisition of a 12,500-square-foot triangular-shaped parcel at 4546 N. Kedvale Ave.
The association, in conjunction with Ald. Margaret Laurino (39th), began actively pursuing the property in 2016. The parcel was large enough for neighbors to envision as a park, while at the same time its unusual configuration made it a challenging proposition for real estate development, according to Ron Duplack, president of the civic association.
“This is an opportunity that won’t come up again,” Duplack said.
The catch: The association needs to raise $25,000 from the community by mid-May in order to qualify for matching grants that will help pay for the land.
Members of the organization have been going door to door to drum up donations and a GoFundMe campaign went live in late February. To date, about $1,500 has been pledged online.
Open Space impact fees and the Chicago Park District would also contribute money to develop the park, under a measure introduced at City Council’s February meeting.
Who pays what, and how much, is still to be determined, dependent on the final sale, Laurino said.
But neighbors’ buy in, literally, is crucial to the project, the alderman said.
“We get calls every day from residents saying, ‘There’s an empty lot at so-and-so. Why don’t you put a park there?’ Public funding would quickly run out without some rally or commitment from the community to demonstrate their support for a particular park project,” Laurino said. “Their financial investment will serve to launch the triangle park project.”
Assuming the purchase of the property goes through, the Mayfair Park Advisory Council, which supports improvements at nearby Mayfair Park, 4550 W. Sunnyside Ave., will work with the civic association to help identify amenities that neighbors want at the new park.
“The beauty of this is it’s a blank slate. We could make it whatever we want,” said Matt Stevens, president of the Mayfair Park Advisory Council.
The oversized lot, formerly home to a house and other outbuildings, has been vacant for several years and fallen into disrepair, according to Jon Litwin, vice president of the Mayfair Park Advisory Council.
For nearby residents, the new park — even as a simple, unimproved green space — would be an upgrade. More importantly, it would solve a longstanding quirk of the area’s street grid, in which homes surrounding the triangle are hemmed in by Elston Avenue and Pulaski Road. The busy thoroughfares essentially cut these residents off from other parks.
“I think everybody agrees locally it’s important for children on the east side of Elston to have safe access to green space,” said Stevens.
Residents may have lawns where children can play or families can host barbecues, but that’s not the same as a public, communal park, said Stacy Meyers, Openlands senior counsel.
“Yes, you can have your backyard, but it’s also good to meet a neighbor. It connects you to something bigger,” Meyers said. “It can really be transformative to have a little patch of green space.”