Since publishing The Great Neighborhood Book, we have continued to receive inspiring stories about how people are creating places in their communities. We plan to share these stories periodically on our blog.


Volunteers get to work at Drake Garden.

For over a decade, Drake Garden has been giving Chicago residents the opportunity to get their hands dirty and get to know their neighbors. Located in the Albany Park neighborhood of Chicago, the garden offers a green, outdoor sanctuary that attracts people from all over the city, whether to work or relax in the garden.

In the 90s, the community decided that a vacant lot that was formerly the site of a synagogue could be put to a better use. Motivated and engaged community members created the Drake Garden Volunteers and worked to turn the lot into a community garden. NeighborSpace, a Chicago-based non profit that supports community-based gardens and open spaces, helped the Albany Park residents secure the land for the garden. NeighborSpace primarily works with community groups that have already established parks or gardens so that the land can be owned by an existing non-profit and can be protected against future redevelopment.

Drake Garden and the work of NeighborSpace help illustrate one of the core tenets of Placemaking: the community is the expert. Community residents did not need outside “experts” to decide what would be the best use of the land that became the garden. Residents took action and created a thriving public space. The garden has been a true success by acting as a community anchor that brings together neighbors who had never even met before in the middle of a dense, ethnically diverse neighborhood.

Local youth love using the Garden as well.

A large sign at the gardens’ entrance increases the site’s presence on N. Drake St. In the garden, there is a board describing the history of the garden as well as a community bulletin board where residents can post information about upcoming events and gatherings. This creates a means for community connection outside of working in the garden together. Drake Garden is divided into smaller zones with distinct plants and features in each area of the garden. Trees, flowers, shrubs, and open space mingle to create a lush, green environment. Recognizing that maintaining interest in a long-term, community project is hard, programming is a central concern for the Drake Garden Volunteers. The garden hosts such events as block parties and rummage sales in order to make sure that residents have as many reasons as possible to get engaged with the garden.

Drake Gardens also partners with Chicago Cares in order to get volunteers engaged with the work at the garden. This serves as an opportunity for residents from different parts of the city get to work together on a community-focused project. Chicago Cares helps engaged residents in the Chicago area find volunteer opportunities focused on addressing various communities’ most pressing needs.

NeighborSpace recently produced a video depicting a day of work at the garden that took home the Grand Prize in Placemaking Chicago’s What Makes Your Place Great? Contest, covered here on Making Places in September. Placemaking Chicago is a partnership between PPS and the Chicago region Metropolitan Planning Council focused on increasing the reach of Placemaking principles in Chicago. With over 8,000 individual votes cast in the contest, a winning photo and video were named in both the People’s Choice and Grand Prize categories. Amy Roth’s photo of Phillips Park and Ami Shah’s video of the Shops of Long Grove earned them both the People’s Choice Award. Along with NeighborSpace’s video profiling Drake Garden, Sylvia Ortega’s photo of Bush Community Garden of Hope also took home the Grand Prize. Be sure to take a look at the Bush Community Garden of Hope photo on flickr which includes some background on how the Garden got started and how it continues to be a tremendous community asset. Much like Drake Gardens, it is a great example of a community coming together for the sake of improving their neighborhood. The success of the Bush Community Garden of Hope also highlights the importance of effective partnerships as they are working not only with NeighborSpace but also local stakeholders such as the local Homeowners’ and Tenants’ Association and local businesses.

Check out the other winning photos and videos at Placemaking Chicago’s website. You can also browse all of the photo and video entries for the contest.

Have you been a part of a Great Neighborhood Project? Email us your story for use in future profiles. tpeyton (at) pps.org

Drake Garden Helps Chicagoans Get Their Hands Dirty was last modified: March 6th, 2012 by Tom Peyton