Environment

‘This Is The Moment Everyone Has Been Waiting For’

ENGLEWOOD – Plans to bring a long-awaited nature trail to Englewood are steamrolling ahead as developers and community leaders set a potential completion date for the near future.

Neighbors gathered Thursday evening to discuss the future of the Englewood Nature Trail, a 1.75-mile park nearly two decades in the making. The trail will run along a long-abandoned rail embankment between 58th and 59th streets between Wallace and Hoyne avenues.

The city obtained the railroad line in 2018 from Norfolk Southern Railway after a City Council-approved land swap with the controversial company in 2014.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s office announced in April that the nature trail would move forward thanks to $ 6 million in city funding and “pending” federal assistance.

The city has applied for $ 35 million in grant funding to go towards the nature trail through the United States Department of Transportation’s RAISE Grant, Vignesh Krishnamurthy, project development deputy commissioner with the local transportation department, said at Thursday’s meeting.

With the assistance of federal dollars, construction on the trail could start as soon as spring 2026, officials said. Construction could be complete by the end of 2027.

Credit: Colin Boyle / Block Club Chicago
The Englewood Line, a 1.75-mile elevated railroad that is being proposed as a nature trail between 58th and 59th streets, from Wallace to Hoyne. Photographed is the overpass at Halsted Street on April 13, 2022.

Anton Seals, lead stewart at Grow Greater Englewood, is one of the community leaders spearheading the project. He said the nature trail will function as an “agro-hood,” where Englewood and West Englewood neighbors can connect, gather and benefit from “the different modes of agriculture.” The trail could have a “memorial space,” for survivors in the community, and monuments created by artists in the community, he said.

Seals said although plans to move forward with the trail are underway, it isn’t a “fully baked cake yet.” It’ll take crucial “ingredients,” like input from the community, to create a vision that best fits neighbors’ needs.

To guarantee all neighbors’ voices are heard throughout planning and designing, Englewood Block Stewards will be employed to “help connect fellow residents” near the trail and “promote safe activities and garner feedback from neighbors,” Seals said.

Neighbors will also create a Community Public Benefits Compact throughout the framework plan to guarantee equitable development, Seals said. The compact will call for good infrastructure, a green neighborhood plan, public safety and the anti-displacement of long-term residents.

“This is a great opportunity to make sure that we’re leveraging our powers, our voices, and using our power to make sure that we’re delivering so that our young people, the next generation, can walk into something,” Seals said .

Gensler, an architecture firm, will tackle urban design and project management for the nature trail. Planning Resources Inc. and Botanical City, an urban and landscape design firm dedicated to preserving cultural landscapes, will lead the landscape architecture.

Maurice Cox, commissioner of the Department of Planning and Development, said the trail would help make Englewood a “15-minute neighborhood.” Neighbors will be able to get to work, eat healthy, stay active, move throughout the neighborhood, take care of their health and enjoy the outdoors “all within a 15-minute walk from your house,” Cox said.

Other projects in Englewood, like a 108-unit affordable housing project slated for vacant ground and a culinary hub, speak to the progress the community is making, Cox said. “This is the moment everyone has been waiting for,” he said.

“I would argue that we have an opportunity to do something in Englewood that has yet to be done anywhere in the United States, and that is to create a 2-mile eco-district where urban ag is juxtaposed to incredible adaptive reuse opportunities, which is juxtaposed to a recreational trail, all within a 15-minute walk from your home, ”Cox said.

“You have stuck with us for years to make this happen, and I think we have the team assembled to make it happen.”

Community leaders and architects will host “design charrettes,” or brainstorming sessions, with community members throughout the summer to create a trail they can happily envision, Seals said. The next meeting will be 6 pm July 7.

Neighbors are encouraged to share their opinions about the project here.

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