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Little Village, streets tightly clenched with two-flats and bodegas, is one of Chicago’s most densely populated neighborhoods. Residents call it the “Mexico of the Midwest,” as it serves as an entry port for Mexican immigrants. While there are large parks on the fringes of Little Village, there are few within the community. It is one of the city’s many “park deserts.” Streets, alleys, and parking lots have long served as makeshift playgrounds, the only green being weeds springing from cracks, or the rare lawn.
For three decades, residents begged for a verdant space where their children might play or where they could sit for a brief reprieve. Finally, weary of waiting for the Chicago Park District to cobble together such a site, they chose to do it themselves.
At month’s end, ground will be broken for Jardincito (Little Garden), a nature park for children on what was once a derelict lot. Owned and protected by the nonprofit land trust NeighborSpace, the 75-by-125-foot park will echo the design and philosophy of early 20th century landscape designer Jens Jensen, who tried to recreate the disappearing Illinois prairie inside the city, by planting native flowers, trees, and shrubs, creating ponds and rivers as well as council rings and natural performance spaces.
“This is for the 8-year-and-under-crowd and is the way of the future,” says Ben Helphand, executive director of NeighborSpace. We will, he’s certain, see more parks akin to Jardincito, designed to reunite children with nature, with hills to roll down and leafy tunnels to explore — “where they can learn to walk on a path and not asphalt.” […]