Disrupt the Narrative. Change the Outcome.
Today the Bloomingdale Trail in Chicago, known colloquially as The 606, is a source of tremendous pride, beauty, and respite for residents of northwest Chicago. But if you ask those who lived in the area at the time, repurposing a section of Chicago’s defunct elevated train line into a 3-mile linear park was messy, loud, and, well, disruptive.
It’s why Chris Lea first got involved with TPL. In fact, he admits he came to an early community meeting to complain but found himself drawn into conversations about what the park could be, what it would be called, how it would be landscaped. “It was…refreshing to see that [TPL] cared what we wanted versus helicoptering in and dropping a park down on the city,” says Lea, who’s now a TPL board member. Because our process allowed Lea and others in the community to envision—and have some say in—what the park would eventually be, they were willing to endure the temporary chaos knowing the result would be something transformative. And it was.
Photo: Adam Alexander
The revitalized Bloomingdale Trail helped to change the narrative of this industrial, once-crime-riddled corridor into one of Chicago’s most beloved outdoor spaces that connects parks, people, and communities.
Indeed, many of TPL’s park projects are, themselves, acts of disruption that shake communities out of gridlock. Countless times, we’ve looked at something going in one direction—or going nowhere at all—and said, let’s change course here.
In Wenatchee, Washington, a history of displacement and unfulfilled promises by local authorities made it hard for the community to trust in the possibility of a renovated park. Teresa Bendito, a teenager at the time, got involved as a paid community organizer with Trust for Public Land after accompanying her mom to an early public forum. Like her mother, other residents were deeply passionate about what the park could be, but they were also skeptical because, Teresa says, “trust had been broken within the years of [previous] failed initiatives or failed programming for (the) community.”
Trust for Public Land took time to build trust with the community, constantly asking, “What do you want to create and how can we help?” As the community began to trust that their participation and their input would be valued and honored, the inertia lifted, and things started to happen. And the progress was remarkable. “I saw the impact when people realized how much power they have…as people who may not have had the opportunity before to express themselves in their language in a place where they felt comfortable,” Bendito says.
Teresa Bendito looks for competitors for a game during the Cherry Fest at Kiwanis Methow Park in Wenatchee. Photo: World photo/Mike Bonnicksen
She adds that the movement took a little more shape and the mission grew as people realized the effort had implications beyond the park itself. “We’re talking about our local park but [also] how this is connected to our housing, to our health and well-being.” The residents began advocating for more, organizing a Latino legislative day at the state capital and get-out-the-vote rallies. By knocking on doors and helping people understand the impact their vote could have, they tripled the Latino vote in the community, Bendito says.
Today the Wenatchee park is flourishing, and so is the community around it. The park opened just before COVID-19, which meant that people had a safe space to play and connect with their neighbors. Local organizers held health fairs in the park and used it as a place to connect residents and undocumented people affected by the pandemic to essential resources.
The willingness to disrupt the past disenfranchisement of local residents and to take the time necessary to build trust with the community meant that the people who would use the park were the ones who were designing and activating it. In this case, TPL and local residents repaired the breach. But sometimes, we’ve found, we’re the ones who need to be disrupted.