LOGAN SQUARE — For too long, Chicago has ignored its leafy boulevards.
But a group of youngsters have some fresh ideas about how to change that.
Students from five Chicago Public Schools across the city have been hard at work coming up with sustainable ideas for how to improve the boulevards in their communities for the EPIC Sustainable Neighborhood Youth Challenge.
"The city's been focusing on Downtown and spending a lot of time trying to open up the river. Now, they say, the boulevards are the third frontier," said Tommy Good, a teacher who's leading a team of five seventh- and eighth-graders at Darwin Elementary, 3116 W. Belden Ave.
The Logan Square students came up with three big ideas for the neighborhood and surrounding area: an amphitheater in Palmer Square, a fitness trail and a self-guided history tour highlighting landmarks like the Illinois Centennial Monument.
"It's certainly very interesting to think that we're coming up with ideas for things that we can see 10 years down the line .. and to think that I made this happen," said one of the students, Elliot Lehrer.
Elliot and his fellow students are gearing up to submit the idea with the most support on the team's online campaign — likely the amphitheater — to the organizations behind the challenge Monday.
From there, the organizations — the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, the U.S. Green Building Council-Illinois Chapter and Civic ArtWorks — will pick the three winning ideas, which will be presented to a group of hundreds of architects and other professionals in the sustainability field at a May 18 fundraiser called Limelight.
The organizations will choose the ideas with the most "likes" and comments on the online campaign, which ends Monday.
The ideas have evolved over the last four months. For example, Mariah Real, 13, originally proposed benches, but after researching the cost and finding out how difficult it would be to install physical structures on landmarked boulevards, she landed on an amphitheater or a small stage with a few raised benches around it.
The amphitheater, which Mariah envisions in Palmer Square, would not only give neighbors a chance to put on performances or hold meetings, but would also provide more public seating, which is needed in the neighborhood, she said.
The students envision a small stage with raised benches around it. [All photos Courtesy/Darwin Elementary]
"My grandmother ... she walks a lot because she doesn't know how to drive. She has a lot of pain in her legs and she has to walk to pay bills. Benches are for people to sit down and people who can't walk that well. The amphitheater can do the same thing," Mariah said.
Like Mariah, Elliot's idea morphed as time went on. He originally wanted to create a self-guided history tour along Logan Boulevard by installing plaques near historically significant landmarks like the Illinois Centennial Monument. But, thanks to suggestions from locals, he decided the tour could be developed into an app rather than a series of physical structures.
The fitness trail would include 20 stations along the boulevards.
His teammate Roberto Morales, 14, wants to see a fitness trail along several boulevards. Under Roberto's plan, 20 fitness stations, each dedicated to a different form of fitness, from stretching to pull-ups, would be installed with instruction signs and exercise equipment.
"We see people working out, but in reality they're just jogging. How can we expand that idea of working out on the boulevards?" Roberto said.
The self-guided history tour could become an app.
The point of the campaign, Good said, is to put "ideas out into the world and see what happens."
"It's our position that we're kick-starting these campaigns," Good said. "We hope the community members can take hold of these ideas and run with them and we'd be happy to collaborate."
The other four schools participating in the campaign are Lindblom Math & Science Academy, 6130 S. Wolcott Ave.; Foreman College and Career Academy, 3235 N. Leclaire Ave.; Community Christian Alternative Academy, 1231 S. Pulaski Road; and Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos High School, 2739 W. Division St.
To support the Darwin team's ideas, visit its online campaign, which ends Monday.