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Behind the Scenes: Engaging community stakeholders to revitalize brownfields in Little Village

06.23.15 | Announcements

Delta Institute is proud to be partnering with Little Village Environmental Justice Organization (LVEJO), to redevelop vacant buildings and lots, known as brownfields, in the Little Village neighborhood of Chicago. Together, LVEJO and Delta are paving the way for new opportunities for economic and community development in Little Village, a historic industrial corridor that has seen industrial disinvestment for years.

While every city and neighborhood has its share of vacant lots and brownfields, what makes this project unique is the active role the community is taking in the redevelopment process. Each step in the Little Village redevelopment process has relied on community input and engagement. Here’s an overview of the process so far:

  1. Little Village mural captured by one of the youth interns.

    Create site inventory: In order to find plots of land and buildings that are good candidates for redevelopment, we start wide and get narrower. In the early stages of this project, Delta and interns from LVEJO’s youth volunteer program conducted a brownfield site inventory. The teams walked, biked, and drove around the neighborhood to catalogue and evaluate the dozens of brownfield sites, collecting information on environmental conditions, access to public transportation, and the proximity to other community assets. Erik, a motivated 17-year-old high school senior from Little Village, was one of the interns. On the role of youth in neighborhood revitalization, Erik stated, “Young people have the potential to do something about this issue [like] being politically involved or skilled in environmental issues.”

  2. Establish community priorities: After the brownfield inventory was completed, Delta and LVEJO held community-wide meetings that invited residents’ input on redevelopment priorities, which were used as a filter to cull down the number of potential properties for redevelopment to 27 sites from an original list of 62. Delta then researched those sites to find out if any of the sites might be contaminated based on their past use, which would indicate whether or not a site requires further environmental assessment or remediation.
  3. Little Village community members provide input on their redevelopment priorities.

    Little Village community members provide input on their redevelopment priorities.

    Define reuse strategies: Next, Delta and LVEJO convened another round of community meetings to develop a list of possible reuse strategies for the selected properties. Those strategies include a range of concepts – from a shared commercial kitchen for local street vendors, to a boat dock, to a fenced-in athletic field that could be used in conjunction with the Special Olympics Chicago. Each strategy falls into one of three categories that can have a positive impact: green space and community use, industrial use, and commercial us.

  4. Refine reuse strategies for 10 sites: Currently, Delta is researching zoning, ordinances, and costs in order to select the best development strategy for each property. This summer, we will work with the Little Village community to narrow the list to about ten properties, and by the fall, we plan to have each property paired with a reuse strategy.
  5. Attract entrepreneurs for site redevelopment: Finally, Delta and LVEJO will work to identify lead entrepreneurs, working groups, or organizations who can help move the community reuse strategies forward.

Transforming brownfields into community assets takes time, energy and significant resources, and it is much more impactful and successful when the community drives each step in the process. Stay tuned for updates on this exciting project!