Shovels bent the grass at 1125 Dewey Ave. on Aug. 2, in the symbolic groundbreaking for Grandmother Park. Five years in the planning, Grandmother Park is a phoenix, rising from neighborhood collaboration over what to do with a burned-out building that remained on the property for several years after the fire.
Grandmothers Gay Riseborough and Mary Trujillo often met in the course of caring for their grandchildren and spoke about the lack of a nearby park for tots.
This central west area of Evanston is bounded loosely by Dempster and Main streets north and south and by Asbury and Dodge avenues east and west. Only the fields at Robert Crown Center and, after school hours and on weekends, the playground at Washington School are available for children to play without having to cross a major street.
With neighbors, the two formed the Grandmother Park Initiative, which then partnered with Openlands, a nonprofit metropolitan conservation organization, to purchase the site.
Openlands purchased the property and held it while the Grandmother Park group raised the $250,000 needed to purchase and develop the lot into a park. When completed, randmother Park will be turned over to the City for maintenance.
At the groundbreaking, Ms. Riseborough thanked Second Ward Alderman Peter Braithwaite, who “has just been wonderful.” She also thanked City CFO Martin Lyons, who “shepherded us very carefully” through the red tape.
State Representative Robyn Gabel, long a supporter of the park, said, “This is a great example of a community coming together to meet the needs of and for the sake of its children. It’s great that the City supported it.”
“We will start with site preparation in about two weeks,” Mr. Lyons said, adding, “Gay wanted it done by Oct. 1.”
“Sept. 1,” Ms. Riseborough said.
Barb Schwarz, co-owner of Nature’s Perspective, a landscaping company in the West Evanston Business District, has been offering advice to Grandmother Park supporters for several years.
The City recently awarded Nature’s Perspective the contract to landscape the park, based in part on their long-term relationship with the Initiative.
“The playground is definitely for little, little kids,” she said. “It will be lightly planted, and that will be done once the space is defined and the equipment comes. There will be some nice green space and a small fence with a gate at each end – once the kids are in, they’re in,” said Ms. Schwarz.
“I hope we’re a model for public-private partnerships. The City could use our help,” said Ms. Riseborough, as a growing group of neighbors and their children were invited to pose for pictures.
“We’re ready to go,” said Ms. Schwarz.
“I want to do it again,” said Mr. Lyons. “And again and again.”
The sturdy grass roots at 1125 Dewey Ave. were apparently emblematic of the perseverance of the neighbors.
If the children at the groundbreaking were any indication, the park will soon be filled.