No open space in my backyard (2)

An open letter sent to CROP, regarding a proposed orchard nearby. BTW, the title refers to another fight over what to do with another backyard I had.

I live [south of Logan Square, near the] city-owned vacant parcel that has been identified as “future community open space.” I recently heard about a plan being advanced to develop that parcel as a fruit orchard, rather than the market plaza promised by the Logan Square Open Space Plan. This proposal puzzles and concerns me, since this location strikes me as a particularly poor location for agriculture.

I have spent my career advocating for smart neighborhood and city planning, including longtime volunteer service on local planning in the West Town and Logan Square community areas. I also spent years as a community gardener at Greenhouse Garden in Ukrainian Village, which houses a number of espaliered heirloom fruit trees.

When I participated in the Logan Square Open Space Plan public outreach process, the conversation about this parcel centered around creating a space filled with human activity. That makes sense given that this is one of Logan Square’s busiest corners, with thriving businesses opening up all around. Pedestrian-oriented retail districts like this need a critical mass of activity to thrive, and that activity should be reinforced whenever possible. That the retail is growing despite nearby parking lots, blank walls, empty storefronts, and high-speed thoroughfares is heartening, but we cannot take further growth for granted. A market plaza would bring more people and more commerce to this corner, helping all of the nearby businesses thrive…

An orchard, closed and gated to the public for all but a few days each year (I know from experience that otherwise fruit and/or trees would be lost to theft or vandalism), would do nothing to reinforce this hub of activity. Creating a “walled garden” (lasting at least several, if not a hundred, years) at the key junction of the Logan-Milwaukee business district will freeze this budding area’s growth and prevent it from coalescing into something greater. In addition, I know from having dug in my own yard that the soil underneath this site does not lend itself to trees: construction of the subway portal and trench required extensive excavation which was backfilled with gravel aggregate, which lurks just a foot beneath the ground.

Scores of vacant lots exist elsewhere in Logan Square, Humboldt Park, and Garfield Park, including high-visibility sites along the boulevard system or near the future Bloomingdale Trail. In fact, the Logan Square Open Space Plan identified several lots that would be ideal for community gardens, provided a group (like yours) was willing to step up and organize management of the site. Many of these would make for suitable locations for quiet agricultural uses, reinforcing the areas’ quiet residential or industrial character.

I wish your organization luck on finding a great site for your worthy project.

11 thoughts on “No open space in my backyard (2)

  1. Obviously the current CROP proposal is still in planning stages and it is going through project development and there will be multiple opportunities for community input. This review process is also being guided by Neighborspace and other organizations that have aided many community development land projects. You bring up some important points about effective use of the space that fronts onto Logan Square and the intersection of 3 major traffic arteries.

    It is important to not miss the point that the C.R.O.P. plan offers multi-use and access to that parcel of land. The schematics show that there is a planned public access “Plaza.” adjacent to the orchard. This part of the site would presumably have unlimited public access, benches, plantings for an open air plaza that fronts right onto the “busy traffic” portion of the Logan Square.

    Meanwhile, the south east portion of the site that is more narrow and runs down Milwaukee Ave, would be set aside for the protected orchard. If the plan were to be approved by the City of Chicago, they would be involved in a substantial “remediation” of the site which would include removal of the current gravel and clay soil and replacement with an extremely deep placement of soil appropriate for growth.

    The Logan Square Chamber of Commerce (the org. that assists the Logan Square Farmers Market) has indicated that the Farmers Market initially explored moving their event to this parcel of land, but they have since deemed that site as too small and insufficient for their needs. Other vendor market ideas for this strip would have to be small scale and would also potentially prevent the development of a public access plaza for recreation, rest, contemplation, etc.

    CROP is a wonderful opportunity to make this underutilized land more accessible and functional to the neighborhood & residents. I’d welcome all local residents to communicate your concerns to CROP and aid in the project development while giving your support to this proposal to the city.

  2. Thanks for the additional information. I’m aware of the smaller plaza at the corner, but worry that the space will come to naught if it isn’t activated by programs or direct commercial activity — I’ve long been involved with plans to activate two small plazas down by Milwaukee/Division and it’s really hard to get people to actually use those spaces. The square doesn’t lack space for passive enjoyment and contemplation — I see plenty of seating right by the monument. Even with the corner plaza, the orchard proposal still puts 150′ of “gated garden” frontage alongside Milwaukee Avenue; that stretch might seem quiet now, but the Mega-Mall and its parking lot won’t last anywhere near as long as an orchard will.

    If the market has outgrown the plaza and will move elsewhere, then why does the market figure heavily into CROP’s argument for placing the orchard there? The market also could occupy several linked spaces (e.g., the new plaza, the existing Logan drive, and Milwaukee through the square), like the Maxwell Street Market.

  3. [I posted this to the Facebook fed-in comment stream]

    Yeah, alas I’m yet another NIMBY, trying to get more density and less open space around here. A market and (unlocked) orchard can’t coexist for security reasons: at my old garden, passerby would pluck the trees clean of immature fruit. We wised up and started growing only stealth fruits, like raspberries that ripen to white and tomatoes that ripen to green.

    Security and soil would be lesser concerns for a more visually open area with fewer trees, like the market plaza concept. CROP says “the market has outgrown the plaza,” but I haven’t confirmed that with the Chamber, nor does it make much sense. An orchard takes years to root and can last for centuries, so its site has to be very carefully considered beforehand.

  4. Received this kind note from Dave Snyder:

    Many thanks for getting in touch and for your encouragement for our
    project as a whole. I’ve visited westnorth before and I believe you
    and I may have met previously, perhaps through Active Transportation.
    Your thoughts about the orchard project are truly appreciated and it’s
    heartening to hear from someone with such a well considered passion
    for his neighborhood. I would like to address a few points you bring
    up. Some I think need expansion and others clarification but I hope
    you consider my response and I’d be grateful if you took the time to
    respond yourself.

    As you know, the Logan Square Open Space Plan sought to increase and
    improve open space in the neighborhood and, for the site at Logan and
    Milwaukee, originally said the land “could be developed as a plaza and
    serve as a farmer’s market location catering to transit users and
    local residents.” However in the intervening six years, the Logan
    Square Farmers’ Market has outgrown the space. I recently spoke with
    Paul Levin who not only told me in person that the Farmers’ Market had
    no current plans on using that space, preferring to remain along the
    boulevard, but also voiced his enthusiastic support for our project.

    But beyond that, I agree with your vision for the corner of Milwaukee
    and Logan as ideally being a busy and bustling area. Our plan has
    sought to balance the necessary care for fruit trees with usable open
    space. I took the liberty of making a little google map to illustrate
    what I mean:,-87.705357&spn=0.000535,0.00142&t=h&z=20&msid=112507217209015552793.0004869850408f827943c

    The area at the junction of Logan and Milwaukee (more than half the
    total area in question) will be a public plaza. This area will be
    unfenced and always open to the public (the design of this is being
    executed by John Mac Manus from Altamanu.) The orchard portion will
    simply be the area descending along Milwaukee towards the MegaMall.
    It will be fenced with a 4′ fence for the very reasons you point out.
    However, we will have it open to the public during farmers markets,
    for public programming and whenever we have volunteer days. Standing
    in contrast to the concept of the walled garden, it is key to the
    mission of our organization to have many people come through the
    orchard as possible. It is clearly necessary to fence the orchard
    while the trees are young (for obvious reasons we’re doing our own
    grafting rather than planting older, nursery-raised trees) but, to be
    honest, it would be my personal preference if the orchard were
    entirely unfenced. Clever acronyms aside, we’re much more interested
    in education and outreach about rare varieties than we are about
    producing an especially large crop. In the absence of a Farmer’s
    Market, we hope our plan will actually have the effect of bringing
    people into the site, rather than keeping them away.

    To address the agricultural suitability of the site — I agree the
    first impression is enough to give any grower pause — but the city
    has agreed to bring in fresh soil to replace the potholed cement that
    they’ll have to pull out. By partnering with NeighborSpace, we’ll
    also do a full set of soil tests. Furthermore, we’re lucky enough to
    have an ecologist (named Doug Lynch) on our team and we’ve run our
    plan past Rick Belding from the Chicago Botanic Garden. Both of them
    have agreed that the site is a reasonable place to grow. Also, in
    contrast to a lot of single-lots that have been earmarked for
    community growing, the site along Milwaukee has good sun exposure.

    I hope I’ve clarified a few points: that the actual junction of Logan
    and Milwaukee will remain a public plaza, as called for in the
    original open space plan; that the portion along Milwaukee where the
    orchard would be has been assessed as reasonable for growing trees;
    and that we’re committed to keeping the space vibrant and accessible,
    even if a certain amount of fencing is required.

    Again, I truly appreciate your thoughts. I’d be more than happy to
    answer any more questions you might have, or to speak with you in
    person. Indeed I’d look forward to it. It’s a pleasure to speak with
    thoughtful, informed people about the neighborhood’s potential. If
    you’re so inclined, feel free to post this response on westnorth.

    Yours sincerely,

    Dave Snyder
    Founder, Chicago Rarities Orchard Project

  5. FYI- This may be tangential to the CROP proposal discussion, but you asked how the CROP Orchard/Plaza proposal would still connect to the Farmers Market. And this is a very interesting development in its own right…

    In my discussions with Paul Levin (director of the Logan Square Chamber of Commerce) he has indicated the current plan for the Farmers Market this summer is to occupy the section of Milwaukee that runs right through the middle of the Square’s traffic circle. That would be the street itself (temporary police or CDOT barricades will reroute traffic around the perimeter of the traffic circle instead of through the middle) and I imagine that would include the open green space land of the park as well as the section of Milwaukee. So the Market would literally cover more ground, be more visible and centrally located in a neighborhood greenspace. And it would also be directly across the street from the plaza indicated in the CROP plan.

    I’m not sure if the Farmers Market would continue to utilize the current section of side street on Logan Square Boulevard, or if they would move all vendor interactions exclusively into the middle of the Square….

    This seems like a very exciting expansion that has the support of the city, police dept, LS Chamber of Commerce and etc.

  6. (Update)

    Alderman Rey Colón and The Department of Zoning & Land Use Planning
    invite you to a *PUBLIC MEETING* to present a public plaza and orchard
    concept as an update to the Logan Square Open Space Plan.

    Tuesday August 17, 2010, 6-10PM at Logan Square Kitchen 2333 North Milwaukee Ave

    For more information call: (312) 744-0605

  7. Pingback: Public meeting August 17 re: Logan Square public plaza « Peopling Places

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