"It is easier to build a strong child than to repair a broken man." - Frederick Douglass

Englewood’s Elevated Nature Trail Will Be Coming Soon

Trail
Courtesy of Mark Harrington (Flickr CC0)

The conversion of an abandoned railroad line in Englewood into a 1.75-mile multi-use trail is subject to community feedback, according to the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) and Department of Planning and Development (DPD). The project otherwise known as the Englewood Nature Trail will be designed and built with $20 million in federal money from the United States Department of Transportation’s RAISE award. The Mayor’s Office announced on Thursday, The route might open as soon as 2027 with federal funding.

For context, Englewood is predominately a residential area with commercial activity on the main streets. The rail corridor was first established in 1917 when the Pennsylvania Railroad built an elevated railway to connect with other nearby train lines and facilities as well as service industrial enterprises close to 59th Street. Since the early 1960s, when the majority of the industries located along the corridor had either closed down or moved, trains have not run on the railway. On a number of nearby lots, environmental pollution from previous industrial uses is still present.

The Chicago Plan Commission adopted the “Green Healthy Neighborhoods Plan” in 2014 as a result of substantial public participation. The plan envisions the route as the spine of an urban agriculture area that occupies neighboring land in addition to other productive uses.

Trail
Courtesy of Loco Steve (Flickr CC0)

An architectural firm called Gensler will supervise the trail’s project management and urban design. Botanical City and Planning Resources Inc. will oversee the landscape architecture.

According to a statement from a news release by Lightfoot, “This equity-focused investment in the Englewood community will serve as a major catalyst for revitalization. The Englewood Nature Trail is both a physical connector and pathway to community connectivity and opportunity. The trail, which was importantly developed as part of a community-led process, will benefit Englewood residents for years to come.”

Neighbors in Englewood have played a key role in the planning and design of the nature walk. The initiative has been led by Anton Seals, lead steward at Grow Greater Englewood.

It has been over 20 years since Englewood officials decided that an abandoned Norfolk Southern rail spur on 59th Street would be an excellent trail. Progress of the route has been hindered by the need for environmental remediation as well as Norfolk Southern’s contentious expansion of a neighboring rail yard, which complicated the acquisition of the property that the city acquired through a land swap.

The Elevated Nature Trail won’t be a carbon copy of the well-known 606/Bloomingdale Trail, according to community leaders, including Anton Seals, lead steward of Grow Greater Englewood. The Englewood Nature Trail is designed more as an elevated natural space and less as a biking route. Alongside the abandoned rail route, a series of urban farms are also envisioned for the trail.

Things in Englewood seem to be taking a turn for the better, but it has not always been like this, the Englewood neighborhood of Chicago experienced many problems as do many metropolitan areas due to white flight and disinvestment. African Americans made up about 11% of Englewood’s population in 1950. By 1990, that percentage had increased to 96%. Englewood’s economy started to dwindle, as violent crimes and property crimes became out of hand, and residents started to leave the area as big retailers and job prospects disappeared.

Entire blocks were unoccupied as homes and other structures were burned down or abandoned. In the early 20th century, Englewood’s population reached a peak of 90,000; by 2000, it had decreased to 40,000. Additionally, the unemployment rate in Englewood and the nearby city of West Englewood is at 27%.

In 2010, 80% of children under the age of 18 lived in households that received public assistance, with 46% of Englewood residents and 38% of West Englewood residents living below the poverty level. Code violations, deterioration, and other issues have led to the neighborhood being labeled a “blighted area.” Moreover, 15 of Englewood’s 23 public schools have received low performance or failing grades from Chicago Public Schools.

Written By Dylan Santoyo
Edited by Sheena Robertson

Sources:

WTTW: Englewood Nature Trail Among ‘Green Infrastructure’ Projects Chicago Has Slated for a Funding Infusion

Chicago: Englewood Nature Trail

Block Club Chicago: Englewood’s Multimillion-Dollar Nature Trail Is Moving Forward. Locals Want It To Be For Neighbors, By Neighbors

Top and Featured Image Courtesy of Mark Harringtons Flickr Page – Creative Commons License

Inset Image Courtesy of Loco Steve‘s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License

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