Tag Archives: neighborhood

Finishing weaving and a closing thought

In our trilogy of parkway rain gardens, I had one more cell to go, which is also the largest cell. Snow was looming on the horizon and I was hoping to finish the weaving of the fence panels before I would freeze my fingers off.

Well, I got done just in time, but I had to wait all winter before I could fully vegetate the rain garden cell. This was a test of my patience.

Demographics

Building the parkway knee fence and rain garden cells took me down memory lane – to our sustainable pilot project, One Drop at a Time, in Elmhurst, Ill. The rain gardens, green roof, rain barrels, and porous pavement at this project caught quite a little bit of attention.

 

The running joke was that whenever I stepped into the front yard of the Elmhurst project I got no work done because of the questions from, and conversations with, passers-by. Thirty minutes of uninterrupted work was unheard of.

Fast forward to our Chicago project: As I mentioned in the last blog post, I began to enjoy plenty of interaction with passers-by while working on the parkway fence. By my observation, the volume of conversations, the level of curiosity, and number of compliments seemed no different than what I had experienced in Elmhurst.

Yet these two communities, North Lawndale and Elmhurst, have completely different demographics and appear to be at opposite ends in the income spectrum.

To demonstrate the point, I picked data from the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) Community Data Snapshots and summarized them in the table below.

For complete data set on North Lawndale, see:

http://www.cmap.illinois.gov/documents/10180/126764/North+Lawndale.pdf

For complete data set on Elmhurst, see:

http://www.cmap.illinois.gov/documents/10180/102881/Elmhurst.pdf

This brings me full circle and back to the quote by the late Charles Leeks, former director of the North Lawndale NHS office.

“People who live in poor communities […] are entitled to good design. I’d love to see good buildings, an aesthetically engaging place. … [A] smart, clever, interesting place to live—and one that looks good.”

Source: THE JOURNAL OF THE AMERICAN INSTITUTE OF ARCHITECTS

In this highly segregated environment, whether it is racial or income related, it is easy to overlook that some things are universal. We all share a thirst for an expression of care in our landscape combined with physical expressions that instill beauty, and a landscape that stimulates.

Just because North Lawndale doesn’t have the resources for attractive landscapes doesn’t mean that they would not be appreciated.

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Talking while weaving

Even though the weather was turning cooler, I just got warmed up weaving the fence panels on our first rain garden cell in the parkway. Now that I had figured out the details and nuances, I was on a roll – or should I say loom?

And with each panel completed, our parkway landscape started to look better, even though I had nothing planted yet.

Community

We are always interested in community outreach, sharing with others what we are doing and why. We use this blog as a community outreach tool. We had several open houses where we invited the community to see our progress for themselves and ask us questions. I still accommodate groups that are interested in touring our project.

Despite all these efforts, we’ve had a hard time reaching the community closest to us, our neighbors in North Lawndale. Interest in and awareness of what we are doing to the house, and why, has grown over the years. But in the busy lives of our neighbors, and everyone’s daily struggle, the deep energy retrofit subject was not a priority. Plus, some of its aspects are rather abstract and eventually hidden behind drywall. There are few visuals that get people excited about, with the exception of our heating bill.

But once I started to work on the parkway rain gardens, interaction skyrocketed. I was doing stuff that was hard to overlook and that nobody expected to see in the neighborhood. Passers-by wanted to know what I was up to.

  

Interactions ranged from compliments on our work, to questions about what we were doing. Compliments and questions came from grown ups passing by and the kids leaving school down the street from us. A number of times, parents picking up their kids from school took them over to the parkway when I was working and asked me to explain to them what I was doing.

And of course, I mentioned the four brothers who helped me excavate the rain garden. We had some really good conversations, and they riddled me with questions until there was nothing left of me.

This was the fun part of putting the fence together, and I really enjoyed it!

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Major milestone

Today was a big day. After five years, Cathy and I feel that we finally got a big step closer to one of our goals: Getting information about our project and information about energy retrofits into the hands and minds of our neighbors in North Lawndale.

This was a long road, but it wasn’t for lack of trying.

Yes, we had a number of open houses, with the last one (open house #4) being the best attended event. Visitors came from all over the city of Chicago and suburbs, which was also the case for the preceding open house. But almost no one from our community attended.

Yes, there is this blog. I have fun writing and publishing it and I am always amazed when I run into people who recognize me because they’ve read it. I am still surprised by how popular it is. But it doesn’t necessarily reach the demographic I want to reach most – the North Lawndale community.

And yes, our adventures have been published and featured elsewhere, such as on Chicago Public Radio. Did that help us connect with our community? Not in a noticeable way.

We have reached out to local community organizations whose missions clearly overlap with our deep energy retrofit goals, focusing on indoor air quality, material reuse and repurposing…you name it. Nothing panned out, despite numerous follow-ups.

It was only in the past couple of months that I came across a group right here in North Lawndale calling themselves “Men Making a Difference.” One of their goals is to help young adults from our community to enter into trade training programs.

That generated the spark through which we connected, and we organized a tour of our deep energy retrofit made up completely of local residents!

Five years in the making! I have to say that this felt like one of the most relevant events we’ve had to date. And I hope we have a lot more of this coming!

Related posts:

Open house #4 – as much Q&A as we could handle

On Air with Worldview

Project featured in Medill Reports Chicago

Open house #3…

1st Open house

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Hot 4th of July

… not only in Chicago, but the whole Midwest.

Once it became clear that it would get steamy, I began to take records of daytime highs and nighttime lows based on the thermometer along the north side of our building. All readings are shade readings.

Tuesday, 07/03

  • High 98F (37C)
  • Low 79F (26C)

Wednesday, 07/04

  • High 104F (40C)
  • Low 82F (28C)

Thursday, 07/05

  • High 107F (42C)
  • Low 83F (28C)

Friday, 07/06

  • High 106F (41C)
  • Low 84F (29C)

Saturday, 07/07

  • High 98F (37C)
  • Low 75F (24C)

Cathy took the dog for a walk on Saturday at 9:00 am, when we were close to the high of 98F. She wished she would have waited a couple of hours, because by 11:00 am the wind shifted to the northeast and temperatures crashed. Before we knew it, we had a stiff, dry breeze with temperatures in the lower 80’s. Boy did that feel pleasant after three days of 100 degree temperatures!

How did we cope with the heat? We kept all the windows and doors shut, and hoped that our insulation would help keeping the inside comfortable and cool. To maintain good indoor air quality, we run the ERV for brief periods in the evening and again in the morning.

That worked pretty well, except that humidity levels rose to the point where it got uncomfortable. To manage summer humidity in the garden unit, we bought an efficient portable AC last year. It is a product by Whytner (Model: ARC-14S), with an Energy Efficiency Ratio (EER) of 11.2 and a specific dehumidification setting.

We turned it on for a couple of hours in the morning and again in the evening, while outside temperatures were somewhat cool. The total run time per day may have been up to five hours. The energy consumption of the AC per day ranged from 4 to 5 kWh (measured with a Kill a Watt (TM))

That allowed us to maintain the indoor temperature at and just below 80F (27C) with comfortable humidity levels. Also, the ceiling fan over the bed made for some very comfortable nights.

We had another excellent way to cool off – in the Park District pool just across the street (1/3 mile), barely five minutes’ walking distance.

This is where our initial research back from the house hunting days begins to pay off. The pool admits the general adult public from 6:00 to 7:00 pm, and it’s free! Cold pool water has never felt so good!

I had to figure out what kind of daytime work I should and could do on the 1st floor, which is not conditioned and got rather steamy. How about installing radiators?

More about this later…

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Transportation folly

… or should I call it Truck folly?

February 2009: I have a long laundry list of preparations for the upcoming purchase of our house and the planned remodeling. On that list is the purchase of a pickup truck so that I can haul materials around.

Great idea, except that most times I am just driving the 1 mile from our current rental place to the house and back, hauling next to nothing.

Let’s see:

  • There is myself (around 215 lbs),
  • the dog (around 75 lbs),
  • a tool box (around 100 lbs),
  • a tool bucket (around 40 lbs),
  • the document and lunch bag (around 10 lbs) and
  • the camera bag (also around 10 lbs).

bike-trailer-01

All together, we are talking about 450 lbs that get hauled around with a 5500 lbs truck. Even better, 290 lbs of the 450 lbs (i.e. myself and the dog) wouldn’t even need the truck. We could use our 6 legs and walk!

That leaves me with only 160 lbs of equipment that need hauling most days. Using the 5500 lbs truck for this job suddenly seems grotesque.

Solution: we talked to our bicycle friends at the HUB. Sam pulled a very sturdy bicycle trailer out of the basement, I mounted a hitch to the back of my bike, and the dog and I get our exercise twice a day, riding to the house and back.

bike-trailer-02

This mode of transportation reduces my carbon footprint, saves money on gas – and it’s fun riding around and making heads turn!

bike-trailer-03

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