This project embodies an urban movement where agriculture is culture, driven by a collective landscape design and research practice. This vision emerges from a collaboration between the Master in Landscape Architecture and Urbanism program at the Illinois Institute of Technology, the City of Chicago Planning Department, and local nonprofit Grow Greater Englewood. Today, the project team includes multiple entities: Gensler, Planning Resources Inc., TranSystems, Botanical City, and Studio Barnes, among others. The 1.75-mile nature trail repurposes the Loomis Embankment, built in 1905 for freight traffic and used for that purpose until the 1970s, as a continuous agro-botanical space to support urban farming businesses and institutions, address environmental issues such as soil pollution and seasonal flooding, and provide moments of relaxation and learning.
The process proposes transferring planning power to community organizers, enabling a neighbor-led landscape framework grounded in ongoing activities and programs around three principles:
Multiplicity of agro-botanical identities: Landscape walks tell the evolutionary story of plants in order to develop agro-business and promote community growth and urban biodiversity by preserving cultural and biological heritage.
Continuous support systems: Soil and water systems address flooding, stormwater management, and wildlife support. The project respects existing hydrological and topographical features and preserves native plants.
Interconnected sacred groves: New public spaces celebrate ancestors by welcoming trees with unique bioremediation capacities such as Populus tremuloides.
The Englewood Agro-eco District and Nature Trail integrate science and art, fostering a connection with the land and enhancing cultural belonging. In four years, the initiative has raised $80+ million. In September 2023, the first poplars arrived at the Englewood Plaza to continue rooting justice.
This article first appeared in the October 2023 issue of ARCHITECT, which was guest edited and designed by Dark Matter U.