Lights spill out of Ogden Park’s lone field house into the barely-lit parking lot in Englewood. “There’s a lot of great people who grew up here, everyone says ‘I learned to swim here!’” says local resident Jeanette Foreman, looking out into the dark. But Ogden Park, a multi-purpose indoor and outdoor sporting facility, is not exempt from the many problems that plague the Englewood area, problems that range from a high turnover in residents to a murder rate receiving global attention. “Ogden Park has an image problem,” says Oak Summers, another resident.
“You don’t really hear about the positive things, only the negatives. We just want to give the residents’ perspective,” adds Asiaha Butler, co-founder and Interim President of R.A.G.E., the Resident Association of Greater Englewood. On a shoestring annual budget, the community activist group pursues resident-driven initiatives in education and economic development. “We try to look at Englewood as having assets not deficits, and to use those to do things that are impactful in the community,” says Butler. “Our members have social media skills, web design skills, and they’re pushing R.A.G.E. to another level.”
On the docket at the Ogden Park meeting was the Green Healthy Neighborhood Land Use Plan, a comprehensive project led by the City of Chicago’s Department of Housing and Economic Development. The plan seeks to address the issues of declining population, food security, green space, and historic preservations. “R.A.G.E. has been involved since the beginning. At the community meetings, lots of stuff was going over the residents’ heads, so we did some training that can really help us understand the lay of the land,” says Butler. “We really needed more detailed information about urban planning and zoning, so we brought 20 or so residents together with CMAP [Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning] to understand the plan, how to participate, and what needs to change.”
Much of the plan focuses on finding uses for the existing vacant lots that pepper the Englewood streetscape. One of the major initiatives will allow residents to buy neighboring vacant land from the city. Those residents will then assume responsibility for its upkeep, but without being saddled with steep tax hikes. Larger parcels can be converted to parks or community gardens, and there are plans for a walking track along the former Englewood El Line. The hope is to provide residents with access to green spaces and to spur local investments.
As the project continues to move forward, R.A.G.E intends to be right there with it. Says Butler, “What [we] wanted to do is make sure that we were involved in discussions at the beginning, in the middle, and in the end.”