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Courtesy of Fred Hickler

Supporters and volunteers participate in the July 2012 opening of the greenhouse located in the Fulton Street Flower and Vegetable Community Garden in Garfield Park. Garden leader Angela Taylor (fifth from left) calls the garden’s volunteers her family and says that even though they’re not biologically related, they are related through their involvement in and bond developed through the garden.

Place-based development honors people’s connections to their environment

by Jayna Omaye
Apr 18, 2013


Courtesy of Fred Hickler

Angela Taylor (in pink) manages the nearly 6,200-square-foot community garden. Taylor revitalized the garden nearly four years ago by talking with community members about what they wanted the space to become.

After Angela Taylor’s father died four years ago, she was moved to rehabilitate her neglected neighborhood garden. As a child she helped her father in their family garden, and since his death has served as the leader of the Fulton Street Flower and Vegetable Community Garden in Garfield Park.

“It was a hope to revitalize his memory,” she said. “Look Daddy, this garden is ready to live and is revitalized. From that point on, it’s been one point after another, moving forward to show what a positive model this space can be.”

A new book, “Place-Based Conservation,” focuses on people’s relationships to physical spaces, similar to Taylor and her garden. More than a score of experts write about the importance of asking community members what a space means to them and what they want the area to become before developing it.

William Stewart, one of the book’s co-editors and a professor of recreation, sport and tourism at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, said to avoid backlash after proposing a redevelopment plan, community feedback should be considered first.

“If I were to ask you to describe your grandmother’s backyard, you probably couldn’t describe it without thinking about your grandmother,” Stewart said. “Place-based planning starts off with the meanings and attachments that people have with a locale.”

Taylor’s neighborhood garden, she said, serves a purpose beyond growing sustainable food — it is a connection between her and her father, and also helps foster friendships among neighbors. Stewart said in place-based planning, which has been used for about 30 to 40 years, the meaning of the land to residents is front and center before the planning of infrastructure and roadwork.

“It brings people back into the equation,” he said. “It attempts to start off with the appreciative dialogue where you have people come together and bring out what their meanings are and why they care about this locale.”

Lynne Westphal, project leader and research social scientist with the U.S. Forest Service in Evanston, said this concept is used more than before. When working on a redevelopment project in the Calumet Region, Westphal said she was concerned that planning efforts would drastically change the area. With the help of one of the book’s authors, Westphal and the planning team were able to redevelop the area with the desires and needs of the community in mind.

“Part of the promise is in merging the biological needs of a place with what people need and want from it as well,” Westphal said. “It is an approach to planning and management that takes these feelings into account, and so people care because it honors what they already care about.”

Taylor has seen firsthand what can happen when the community isn’t consulted. One of the neighborhood community gardens was revitalized without input from residents, and has since become a place where people dump their trash and sleep, she said.

“Even at that level, you can install a community garden that can have negative impacts on the community,” she said. “They haven’t changed their thinking, because it hasn’t visually sent a message that we’re doing something different.”

To avoid this problem, Taylor said she gathered volunteers, passed out fliers and met with residents to discuss her plans for the community garden first.

“The important thing to me was that they were at least consulted,” she said. “If I’m living across the street from this garden, I want to know what kind of garden you’re putting there. Is it going to be positive or negative?”

Although some of the challenges to place-based conservation involve disputes between businesses and residents over land use, Stewart said it’s best if these problems are resolved among developers and community members instead of in the courts. This compromise would encourage residents to participate in the decision-making process, he said.

“Every single person in the world has a concept of place whether you know it or not,” Stewart said. “We need to make sure that memory is restored eternally.”