497-313: Social & Economic Development in Chinatown: Designing Inter-generational Community Garden Space

Meeting Days/Time
Wednesdays from 10:00 am to 12:40 pm
Haines School and the Coalition for a Better Chinese American Community
Rebecca Steffenson (SOCSCI) (rsteffe1@iit.edu) and Sabrina Fesko (ID) (sfesko@iit.edu)
Appropriate Majors
All interested students are welcome, Architecture, Architectural Engineering, Biology, Biomedical Engineering, Business, Chemical Engineering, Chemistry, Civil Engineering, Communication, Engineering Management, Humanities, Industrial Technology and Management, Mechanical Engineering, Political Science, Psychology, Sociology, Social and Economic Development
Social Innovation

The Chinese population is the fastest growing immigrant community in Chicago, and new Chinese immigrants continue to choose Chinatown as their first port of entry. This means that Chicago’s Chinatown is growing, while many others around the country shrink. Growth presents opportunities and challenges, many of which are outlined in the Chicago Chinatown Community Vision Plan (2015). This two-year planning project (conducted by the Coalition for a Better Chinese American Community, the 25th Ward Alderman Daniel Solis, and the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning) identified many priorities for economic and community development in the neighborhood.

One priority addressed by the Vision Plan was the lack of green space in Chinatown; another was the functionality of existing green space. It was noted that developing green space would help make the neighborhood a more “livable” community. When Chinatown residents were asked how their experience in existing park space could be improved, a significant majority of respondents indicated that they would like to have a community garden in the neighborhood. Community gardens are desirable because they can support health and wellness, contribute to crime prevention, and improve urban ecosystems. Community leaders hope that a community garden will help create more “neighborhood stewards” who take an interest in making Chinatown a cleaner and safer urban space.

In June 2016, a summer IPRO team conducted a stakeholder analysis and found that multiple community advocacy and service groups were interested in having a community garden, and that they were especially interested in making sure that any plans for a community garden be inclusive of the needs of senior citizens and the youth. Senior citizens over the age of 65 make up 18 percent of the population of Chinatown, which is much higher than the 10 percent average for greater Chicagoland. There are multiple senior centers in the neighborhood. There are also multiple elementary schools, and many grandparents provide after school care for neighborhood children. One of the challenges the spring 2017 IPRO team will face will be to design an inter-generational community garden that meets the needs of these different types of users and different stakeholders. There are also technical problems that will need to be resolved such as limited space and the lack of a dedicated water source.

This IPRO team will work with Chinatown stakeholders (including Haines School and the Coalition for a Better Chinese American Community) to design an inter-generational community garden. The design plans will need to consider the limitations of available space and the needs of its intended users. While many stakeholders agree that a community garden is desirable, there are concerns about making sure that the garden will be sustainable. Buy-in from existing groups is needed to make sure that the labor and resources needed to maintain the garden are available throughout the season and especially over school breaks. The IPRO team will need to work with stakeholders to draft bylaws which regulate the social use of this space. In addition, the team will need to work towards solving the water problem. Since none of the available sites have a dedicated municipal water source, the team will work towards developing a technical solution to address the water needs (such as a rainwater storage system).

This IPRO team project will apply a user-focused design process. The team will use multiple applied research methods (such as interviews, focus groups, and behavioral observation) to identify the needs of the different user groups and consider how those needs can be integrated in a single space. In the planning phase, the research team will also need to review the literature on inter-generational gardens, research best practices, research municipal regulations, and design a process for stakeholder input. A technical team will need to determine whether it is feasible to design a rainwater storage and irrigation system in lieu of installing a municipal water source. This IPRO team can benefit from various resources and documentation about previous IPRO projects focusing on UFarmIIT and other community garden and urban agriculture topics.

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