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Participatory Planning for El Paseo

Painting the Loomis St. Bridge. Photo courtesy of El Paseo Community Garden.

The Chicago Community Trust is currently funding 11 community-led riverfront projects through their Our Great Rivers grant. This piece is part of our 2019 series highlighting these projects.

You can’t spend much time in Pilsen without hearing about the proposed El Paseo Trail. Some people are excited about the prospect of a new bicycle and pedestrian trail and increased visitors and business it could bring, while some worry about the effect a trail could have on increasing housing price pressures, resident displacement, and the limited parking. Still more may be worried about pedestrian and environmental safety along the proposed path — which would run down Sangamon St. between 18th and Cermak, before continuing down Blue Island and into Little Village – due to heavy traffic, unsafe street crossings, and industrial buildings.

A partnership of neighborhood organizations, led by the El Paseo Community Garden, has been working to capture the excitement and concern around El Paseo and give residents a place to engage in the planning process for the trail and other neighborhood priorities.

Photo courtesy of El Paseo Community Garden

The El Paseo Community Council was established in early 2019, and has five committees: 1) Housing & Equity; 2) Arts & Culture; 3) Programming; 4) Stewardship; and 5) Health & Safety. So far, the committees have begun meeting to discuss priorities for planning El Paseo equitably. For example, the housing & equity committee is discussing strategies for how to reduce displacement and increase affordable housing development, including using tools such as community benefits agreements with developers.

The Community Council has been advocating for community engagement and involvement throughout the planning process, and has hosted events with elected officials and other stakeholders to highlight the community’s perspective on the trail. At an event in August, the Community Council hosted the City of Chicago Mayor’s Pedestrian Advisory Council for a walk from El Paseo Garden to nearby Park 571/Eleanor St. Boat House to bring attention to the difficult sidewalk and road conditions along the route.

Walking Tour with Mayor’s Pedestrian Advisory Council. Photo courtesy of El Paseo Community Garden.

In addition to establishing the Community Council, El Paseo Community Garden has been working to increase programming and arts in the garden such as pop-up farmers’ markets, expanding the mural in the Garden, and hosting a guest artist for Open Studios Pilsen. They have also partnered with local artists to install murals along the Loomis St. Bridge, which crosses the South Branch of the Chicago River and connects Pilsen and Bridgeport.

Farmer’s Market in partnership with Alivio Medical Center. Photo courtesy of El Paseo Community Garden.

Our Great Rivers / Great Rivers Chicago: MPC’s Blogs and highlights on Our Great Rivers are made possible in large part by the Chicago Community Trust, the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation, the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, the Joyce Foundation, the Union Pacific Foundation, BNSF Corporation, Gaylord & Dorothy Donnelley Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation ArcellorMittal, Comcast Corporation, and individual donors.

Through relationship building, organizing, and stewardship, El Paseo Community Garden and their partners are both bridging neighborhoods and ensuring that the El Paseo Trail and other developments underway in Pilsen serve the existing community.