By Callie Mabry, Faith in Place
Chicago’s South Shore has a rich history, spectacular architecture, and view of Chicago’s skyline. In the 1950s it became a premier upper middle class community for African-Americans. Today, it’s the last urban lakefront community where predominately people of African descent live. Yet, the neighborhood lacks much of the parks, green open space, and investment in storm water infrastructure found in white lakefront communities.
Because of this, residents experience a number of challenges including street and basement flooding, and sewer backups due to a lack of green space to absorb water runoff. Flooding not only damages homes, but also causes respiratory problems from the resulting mold and mildew.
Veronica Kyle recognized these challenges and the unique opportunity that communities of faith could have in addressing them. With funding from Freshwater Future she organized two green infrastructure visioning workshops through her role with Faith in Place. Faith in Place is a non-profit organization that empowers Illinois people of all faiths to be leaders in caring for the Earth.
She had one critical rule for the sessions—NO COMPLAINING! Working with a positive attitude and a focus on “What would be right?” residents used enlarged neighborhood maps to draw where they saw community assets, such as public lake shore space, and where they wanted to see change. Improvements to parks, rain gardens, community gardening, tree planting and the South Shore beaches—a vision for green infrastructure and a healthier community began to take shape.
Leveraging momentum from the visioning workshops, residents, community groups, and Faith in Place turned these ideas into action.
Residents have begun to plant more native plant gardens and trees, recognizing the importance of plants to absorb water runoff and prevent flooding. The community garden club gave away tree saplings and milkweed to attract Monarch butterflies.
Faith in Place received funding for on-the-ground projects from the ChiCal River Fund, to work with nine houses of worship to reduce storm water by planting rain gardens, conducting facility water-use audits, and installing rain barrels.
One of the churches, the Church of St. Bride Catholic Parish extended beyond their own property to distribute 25 rain barrels to parishioners and neighbors—All combined these projects are not only diverting huge volumes of rain water from the sewer system, but helping to strengthen community ties throughout the South Shore.
The visioning conversations changed the scale of the issues, many people had been familiar with of the problems of flooding in their own homes and on their block, but had not realized that this was a common experience across the neighborhood. Now using the positive outlook that the visioning exercise promoted, residents are finding and implementing solutions on both scales—the individual and community. Ultimately doing, “What is right, while embracing the reality that there is much work to be done.”
Freshwater Future’s Community Climate Program provided funds to help with this project. We have a number of other granting programs. Want to learn more? Visit us at freshwaterfuture.org or call us at 231-348-8200.