The Crusader Newspaper Group

Woodlawn Peace Garden receives vital makeover


The volunteer effort introduced the neighborhood to The Prairie Rainwater Parkway Garden, located at 6354 S. St. Lawrence, as part of BIG’s neighborhood reforestation initiative. The new green infrastructure gardens were designed and built to protect and enhance the root zone of the trees, which will help extend their health and longevity.

“We’re here working at the Mamie Till Forgiveness Garden at the home of Emmett Till. Timberland has a commitment to create and restore green space,” Timberland’s Senior Manager of Community Engagement Jason Blades told the Crusader, “We started in 2016, with five different cities. And we completed that very quickly in 2018. So, we decided let’s up the ante and said, ‘We’re going to double our retail footprint.’ So, we have 250,000 square feet of retail stores in the U.S. So we said, ‘let’s double that but let’s do it in a different way.’ Let’s green 500,000 square feet, so [that we] could create or restore.”

“My job is creating partnerships with organizations and leveraging our assets. So, our money, our employees [will find] time to invest in our communities where our consumers work, live and play,” Blades said.

ON JUNETEENTH, VOLUNTEERS planted about 800 plants and 10 tons of soil amendments, gravel mulch, and stone materials in the combined 1200 square feet area in the Mamie Till Peace Garden

The new green infrastructure garden spaces were planted by BIG and community volunteers in parkway areas between the curb and sidewalk at the Emmett and Mamie Till-Mobley property at 64th Street and South St. Lawrence as a part of the Mamie Till-Mobley Forgiveness Garden. Though Timberland would not reveal how much money it donated to the project, one volunteer put the cost of the garden at about $150,000.

“They gave us some grant money and then they’re paying for some additional things. So, we’re not sure exactly what the toll is. But this is about $20,000 worth of landscape that we’re putting in,” David Yocca, BIG’s director of Green Infrastructure, said. “And (the funders) then gave us an additional stipend to do some long-term maintenance to get it well established, and to do maintenance to make sure that it’s successful.”

LANDSCAPE ARCHITECT DAVID YOCCA works with long grass as he utilizes a German technique to utilize rainwater and increase green spaces in West Woodlawn. (Photos by Stephanie Gadlin)

The two new green spaces are the first application of BIG’s Prairie Rainwater Parkway Garden demonstration. Volunteers planted about 800 plants and ten tons of soil amendments, gravel, mulch, and stone materials in the combined 1,200-square-feet area.

“A demonstration of this kind of approach to putting in a garden that is providing a lot of benefits and performance values as well as being beautiful,” said Yocca, who has been a landscape architect for decades. “So, it’s beautification, but in a way that is helping to manage rainwater, to provide pollinator habitat, provide cooling, because we’re using a technique of gardening that was actually pioneered in Germany, and rebuilding their toxic industrial landscapes.”

“Honoring and preserving the experiences of Black Americans is critical to our collective history as a nation, and Trust for Public Land is proud to continue our mission to recognize these people and places,” said Caroline O’Boyle, associate vice president, Illinois state director for Trust for Public Land. “These protected green spaces in West Woodlawn will allow residents and visitors a chance to connect to these stories through neighborhood-based outdoor gathering places.”

Boyle’s organization helped BIG to broker a relationship with Timberland’s parent company VFC. “There’s an enormous amount of research that points to the health benefits of having quality outdoor green spaces on your block in your neighborhood,” she said. “And so, there’s violence reduction, crime reduction, improvements in mental health, stress reduction. I mean, there’s research, it’s not just me saying that that’s what would happen.”

GLOBAL APPAREL BRAND Timberland joined with Blacks in Green (BIG) and the Public Land Trust to design two sustainable gardens in West Woodlawn as part of a community Juneteenth commemoration. More than 50 volunteers turned out to disperse gravel and soil and to plant a variety of plants native to Illinois.

The plantings will also provide pollinator habitat, rainwater management, and seasonal beauty. All of these efforts represent BIG’s commitment to the Sustainable Square Mile.

Yocca is also board chair of the Green Infrastructure Foundation, which he says plays an integral part in funding green projects in underserved neighborhoods, “If we had this kind of green infrastructure approach, and all the parkways in the neighborhoods, and we put green roofs on and solar arrays on all the roofs, and basically maxed it out in the green infrastructure with a billion dollars or whatever it is just what would that look like,” he told the Crusader.

“What would it cost? And what would it produce in terms of clean air, clean water, etc.? And what would it produce in terms of jobs and economic benefits? And when you add up, you know, just an area like the size of Woodlawn, it gets to be a pretty staggering number. And there is that kind of money out there,” he said.

This environment report is supported in part by the Inland Press Foundation.

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