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As the weather warmed up ahead of the Memorial Day weekend, Austin residents, elected officials and soldiers from a local U.S. Army recruiting post gathered at the lot on 5413 W. Madison St. for a groundbreaking of the forthcoming Austin Veterans Peace Garden.
The May 24 event was a culmination of almost two years of collaboration between the South Austin Neighborhood Association (SANA); Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th); Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin (1st); NeighborSpace, a nonprofit that provides community garden; and design firm Christy Webber Landscapes.
The officials envision the garden as a place of peace and contemplation and a place to honor Austin veterans. The garden is expected to be finished by early November 2018, just in time to have a grand opening on Veterans Day.
The garden grew out of discussion with local seniors, who felt that Austin didn't have much to offer for local veterans.
That year, Taliaferro held the first ward-wide participatory budgeting vote, where residents got a chance to weigh in on how he should spend $700,000 in "aldermanic menu" funds, which are allocated for infrastructure-related projects.
One of the projects that got approved was a series of three community gardens — one on the south third of the ward, one in the middle and one in the north third portion of the ward. As Taliaferro, who is a veteran himself, explained during the groundbreaking, SANA approached him about using the south community garden funds for the Veterans Peace Garden, and he liked the idea.
SANA was able to get $155,000 in funds from the city's Open Space Impact Fee program, and an additional $90,000 came from Taliaferro's menu fund. In 2017, SANA teamed up with NeighborSpace, an East Garfield Park-based nonprofit that helps community groups build community gardens by buying property and handling logistics like securing water and buying insurance.
Christy Webber Landscapes, which is based in the industrial area near Humboldt Park/East Garfield Park border, helped SANA refine the design. According to Tiffany Danielle, the company's design principal, it was very much a collaborative process. As with any other projects, she said, SANA came to them with a vision, and it was their job to figure out how to make it a reality.
The garden will feature a fence, complete with a peace symbol and codes of arms of all four branches of the U.S. Military. Beyond the gate, a path will lead the visitors toward a "flag circle," which will feature the U.S. flag and the flags of the military branches. The path will continue north, passing through a pavilion in the middle toward and a sitting area in the northeast corner. It will also feature a butterfly garden and a sculpture honoring dogs who served in the military.
Danielle said that the plants are designed so they wouldn't require much maintenance after they have been planted and had a chance to grow.
"It's a good collaboration [that will] produce a nice, warm outdoor space for the veterans and community [residents] to gather and collaborate," she said.
As the officials prepared to break ground, SANA president Cassandra Norman thanked everyone who made the project possible.
"We will be able to give dignity and honor to those in the Austin community and those outside of it," she said. "I think you will be able to see how this is going to pull the Austin community together. It's going to be a great venue for one of the biggest communities in Chicago."
Taliaferro said that the garden was a great example of what partnerships between residents, community organizations and elected officials can accomplish.
"It's an honor to be a part of something that's so significant," he said. "Honoring our servicemen and our service ladies is tremendously, tremendously important."
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