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Peterson Garden Project a 'Gentrification Bullet' for Howard St.: Critics

By Benjamin Woodard | October 23, 2013 9:34am
 The Peterson Garden Project plans to install more than 130 garden beds on the vacant lot.
The Peterson Garden Project plans to install more than 130 garden beds on the vacant lot.
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DNAinfo/Benjamin Woodard (inset: Peterson Garden Project)

ROGERS PARK — The Peterson Garden Project's new community garden on Howard Street would be a "gentrification bullet" for an area made up of mostly low-income African-American families, critics of the plan said.

The project's founder, LaManda Joy, on Tuesday introduced plans to the community to install at least 130 raised garden beds on a long-vacant, 1-acre lot at Howard Street and Ashland Avenue.

The garden would remain on the city-owned land for at least two years before the city finds a developer to build a high density mixed-use building on the lot.

"My fear is that Peterson Garden is being used as a gentrification tool," said Anthony Boatman, who works with neighborhood group A Just Harvest to teach urban gardening to area youths. "My fear in this two-year process [is that] certain populations would be scared off Howard Street, pushed back into the north of Howard area — into Juneway [Terrace] so that they'll be unwelcome on Howard Street."

Boatman said the project — and later the development — would be a "gentrification bullet" for the area, alienating the people who live there.

"Bam," he said. "It's pretty obvious to me."

But Joy and Ald. Joe Moore (49th) say the new garden would be an "inclusive" space to help the community to grow.

"We can't solve all the problems of this neighborhood, nor is this project meant to do that," said Joy, who manages seven other community gardens on the North Side. "This project is meant to be a bright spot."

Open registration for the garden, where people can become "members" of the group for $75 to access a 4-foot-by-8-foot garden plot, begins in March.

Joy said scholarships would be available for people who can't afford the membership fee.

Others still voiced frustration that the greater community wasn't involved with planning of the garden before the project signed a two-year lease on the land.

"We have a reputation of doing food justice work in the community and also a relationship with the alderman's office," said Peter Hoy, of LETS GO Chicago, which established other community gardens throughout the neighborhood. "We're wondering why the alderman's office didn't approach groups that they knew were doing this work in the community."

Joy said the garden could be a place of collaboration for neighborhood groups with a similar mission.

Still, others, like Eva McCann, 54, said the garden would help turn Howard into a "thriving street."

"I'm tired of seeing the blight," she said. "On Howard "there are six gym-shoe stores, ghetto stores, they are. I want to see something productive like a garden go up on Howard Street. And I want this garden to be as inclusive as possible. And yes, work with the young people who live in this neighborhood."

She said the garden would not be "just a white thing."

"At least the garden can be inclusive and bring everybody in," she added.

Moore also said the garden would "bring the community together."

"This has been laying foul for years," he said. "It's going to be a win-win for everybody. I can't imagine why this would be at all controversial."

The Peterson Garden Project invites everyone to help move garden beds and hang chicken wire at the future site of the garden from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Nov. 2.