By Rita Feikema
Although the day was cold and rainy, turnout was great for a day of neighborhood beautification on the north side of Chicago. I work with many different demographics in the Rogers Park neighborhood, and I’d spent several months learning about the felt needs of our neighbors, as well as the strengths that already exist in our community. One idea that came through loud and clear was the desire to beautify our streets. Neighbors wanted a way to feel ownership and responsibility in our community.
So one Saturday, we got together a group of volunteers to plant flowers along the sidewalks of two major streets. These were not just any flowers. They were seedlings that had been growing in the greenhouse at Gale Academy, a local public school, for months.
They had been tended by student volunteers from Rogers Park, who attended Loyola or Northwestern. And, these were not just any volunteers. Members of the Rogers Park Garden Group shared their expertise on how to transplant these seedlings into the ground. College students who were interning in they city provided muscle and energy as they learned about one of the vibrant neighborhoods in Chicago. A group of moms who were looking for opportunities to volunteer in the community brought their kids. And members of Many Peoples Church came with coffee and cookies to warm us up.
It’s incredible how a little thing like planting flowers can suddenly make a neighborhood seem friendlier. Everyone walking by wanted to know what we were doing, or complimented us on making the street more welcoming. Conversation – between passersby and volunteers, between college students and kids, between expert gardeners and novices – that never would have otherwise taken place flowed unforced. And of course, now Rogers Park enjoys more pleasant, beautiful streetscapes.