ENGLEWOOD — When Englewood gets its own version of the widely-popular 606/Bloomingdale Trail, residents want to see not just an elevated trail, but also an outdoor theater, community gardens and safer nearby intersections.
Those were some of the ideas that came out of a brainstorming session Monday night in Englewood, as planners gathered residents to talk about the impending trail, tentatively called "The Englewood Line."
Many shared their ideas, as well as concerns, at the first community participation event, led by Grow Greater Englewood. The proposed eco trail would be a 1.7-mile-long park and trail system on an unused rail line in Englewood.
The elevated railroad is between 58th and 59th streets, from Wallace to Hoyne. The nature trail would be similar to the 606 parks system, which includes the Bloomingdale Trail former rail line, on the North Side. Funding would be a mix of public and private dollars.
The discussion took place at Feed, Clothe and Help the Needy, 1234 W. 59th Street. Attendees were asked to break into small groups and participate in three interactive sessions: the vision and design of the trail, job opportunities with Greencorps and a public safety survey as part of a Health Impact Assessment.
“It’s their project so at the end of the day, if it’s going to be used, then the community needs to do the designing,” said Scott Goldstein, principal of Teska Associates, an urban planning firm.
Teska is working with the community and local businesses to provide input into the design and implementation of a nature trail. The City of Chicago Department of Planning and Development is leading the trail conversion effort and has contracted Teska Associates to handle project management.
Goldstein called the ideas “terrific” and said that it’s important for the community to be apart of the process from the beginning.
The nature park is “desperately” needed, said Englewood resident Bernita Thomas. “It’ll be an enhancement for the community.”
She participated in all three interactive sessions and was vocal at each one.
“I want to bring something different,” she told the vision and design group.
Instead of the usual classes that are offered through the Chicago Park District, Thomas wants to see something “new and invigorating.”
The proposed eco trail would be a 1.7-mile-long park and trail system on an unused rail line in Englewood.
Some of her ideas focus around people with disabilities. Thomas would like to see room for a pop-up shop so those with disabilities who make crafts can sell them.
With the Englewood Line Nature Trail will come jobs, which Robert Griffin is “happy” to hear. He said bringing jobs to the community will help decrease the violence.
Greencorps Chicago is a green-industry paid job training program. Trainees would receive both classroom and hands-on training in horticulture, tree care, ecological restoration and environmental health and safety. Eligibility requirements: at least 18, Chicago resident and pass ongoing drug screening.
Curtis McKinney is project coordinator over the job training program and said there are more jobs in this industry than potential applicants. Not enough people are going after these jobs, he said. Basic landscaping jobs can pay $10 an hour, but the specialized jobs can pay anywhere from $12-17 an hour, he said. If they get a job with the Forest Preserve, they can see an annual salary of at least $41,000.
McKinney said Greencorps is looking to diversify the green-industry. They encourage everyone to apply, even those with felonies.
“We will help people overcome those barriers,” he said.
This is some of the space that would get transformed into a nature trail.
It was more than Englewood residents who joined in on the brainstorming session. Cynthia Hudson, community liaison for Active Transportation Alliance, made her concerns known.
“The big thing for me is access,” she told DNAinfo. “I want to make sure people feel safe and they have access. Some of these streets around the trail are dangerous.”
She said that a campaign last year listed the 63rd and Halsted intersection as one of the top 10 dangerous intersections in the city.
Hudson is planning to do a walkability assessment and is looking for people to join her. She doesn’t have a date set yet, but says people can contact her either by phone, 312-216-0464 or through email, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rep. Sonya Harper (D-Chicago) is also the executive director of Grow Greater Englewood. The goal of the meeting was to get feedback from the community, she said.
“This is kind of the kickoff because we want to keep them engaged over a period of time as we work to figure out what the trail would look like, what it would be like and who it would be for,” Harper said.
Her vision for the trail: “I would just like a nice haven, a quiet place to walk, maybe take your dog for a walk and to just enjoy nature and feel peace.”
She also envisions it being a safe gathering space for neighbors and a place for children to play and learn more about nature.
Englewood “deserves” this trail, she said.
“This isn’t even a new idea,” said Harper. “This is something that was put on the books a long time ago and just kind of sat there. Grow Greater Englewood, with the help of the city, is helping to revive this for the sake of residents. We need stuff to happen and we need it to happen right now in our community.”
Goldstein from Teska said he would like to see construction begin as early as this summer.
For more information on Englewood Line, people can visit the website at www.Englewoodline.org.
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