Under the Grid Collective and Trust for Public Land Celebrate Redeveloped WACA Bell Park in Chicago’s North Lawndale Community as Part of the Chicago Recovery Plan

Today, the Under the Grid Collective in Chicago including Trust for Public Land (TPL), West Side Association for Community Action (WACA), Freedom House Studios, Firehouse Community Arts Center, New Covenant and Open Architects Chicago are celebrating the opening of the first phase of redevelopment for WACA Bell Park in the North Lawndale neighborhood on Chicago’s west side.

This project is one of 11 plazas created through the city’s Public Outdoor Plaza (POP!) program and part of Mayor Brandon Johnson’s ongoing investments into communities. These plazas are designed to help community-based organizations revitalize underutilized land along neighborhood retail corridors by creating spaces for recreation, performances, pop-up shops, gardening, and other neighborhood activities at strategic locations across Chicago.

“Public art and vibrant outdoor spaces are critical to revitalizing our neighborhoods and improving our quality of life,” said Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson. “I am proud to support this community collective and invest in the people of North Lawndale through the WACA Bell Park project. I look forward to continued partnership to increase the availability of safe, dynamic park spaces as well as the presence of public art in our communities.”

WACA Bell Park is one of the first projects of Under the Grid, an initiative using public art to revitalize 15 blocks between the Pulaski and Kedzie neighborhoods. TPL helped lead community engagement sessions to redesign WACA Bell Park, ensuring that it was built with the community, for the community.

“North Lawndale is such a vibrant neighborhood, with residents eager to gather in an outdoor space that’s safe and welcoming for everyone. WACA Bell Park has been designed by and for this community,” said Caroline O’Boyle, AVP and Illinois State Director for Trust for Public Land. “Trust for Public Land helped lead community engagement sessions to ensure this space reflects the needs of residents and we’re grateful for our partners in the City of Chicago and Nike for helping bring this amazing space to life. Being able to celebrate this space together today as we also honor the work TPL has accomplished over the last 50 years is truly special.”

Located at Ogden and Drake on the west side of Chicago in the North Lawndale community, WACA Bell Park is the place where WACA’s community organizing and workforce development initiatives began 50 years ago.

“WACA is proud to collaborate with our partners to not only revitalize the physical condition of the community play lot, but to celebrate the legacy of my parents, Ernest and Gloria Jenkins, WACA’s co-founders. It is our hope that the rebirth of WACA Bell Park will foster a sense of belonging in our community,” said Lola Jenkins, WACA’s Vice President of Operations.

In February of 2020, over 75 designers and community members participated in an “Urban Hack” to generate possibilities for the greenway. The design for the park was based on input from local student proposals, who wanted to see a revitalized basketball court, a performance stage, new landscaping, permeable surfaces, and several seating areas more focused for community gathering.

“Spaces like these inspire and encourage people to become change makers in their own communities. It is important for neighbors to co-create spaces that reflect their voice, choice, and agency,” said Haman Cross III, Lead Artist for the project.

In addition to funding from the City’s POP program, Nike was also instrumental in the development of WACA Bell Park, with a special focus on adding the cooling features that will help with North Lawndale’s climate resiliency.

“Building more climate resilient communities is critical for protecting the future of sport and play,” said Nike’s Chief Sustainability Officer, Noel Kinder. “And this work can’t happen without great partners like Trust for Public Land who share Nike’s ambition for preserving and uplifting urban green spaces in our communities. We’re thrilled to celebrate with Chicagoans and see WACA Bell Park reopened for all athletes in North Lawndale.”

Today marks the completion of the first phase of the project. When complete, the overall cost of the revitalization will be $1.5 million.

North Lawndale has suffered from disinvestment over the past 50 years, but community members are working hard to reverse that trend. WACA Bell Park represents the third project in an ongoing partnership between TPL and the North Lawndale community to revitalize outdoor gathering spaces. In 2021, TPL supported the development of an 18-hole mini golf at Douglas Park and is currently hard at work helping to restore the historic Sears Sunken Garden, which will give over 7,700 North Lawndale residents a close-to-home green space and attract visitors to the community.

In honor of 50 years of preserving and enhancing the outdoor places that fuel collective health and represent our nation’s rich array of lived experiences, TPL is embarking on a celebration of community investments and impact. TPL’s work across Illinois has ensured the protection of 4,320 acres of green space and helped 166,190 residents to live within a 10-minute walk of a park. Nearly 98 percent of Chicagoans live within a 10-minute walk to a park and the city ranks #12 on the 2023 ParkScore® Index.

About Trust for Public Land

Trust for Public Land (TPL) is a national nonprofit that works to connect everyone to the benefits and joys of the outdoors. As a leader in equitable access to the outdoors, TPL works with communities to create parks and protect public land where they are needed most. Since 1972, TPL has protected more than 4 million acres of public land, created more than 5,364 parks, trails, schoolyards, and iconic outdoor places, raised $93 billion in public funding for parks and public lands, and connected nearly 9.4 million people to the outdoors. To learn more, visit tpl.org.