Vanessa Stokes, the visionary behind all the pop spaces cuts the ribbon at the PopGrove-a public plaza for residents located at 4453 W Madison Ave. in West Garfield Park on Friday, August 19. (Shanel Romain/Staff Photographer)

City of Chicago officials formally opened POPGrove, one of its Public Outdoor Plaza (POP!) spaces, at 4453 W. Madison St. in West Garfield Park on Aug. 19. 

What used to be a vacant lot is now a family-friendly plaza that includes “a shaded grove along the sidewalk, active and passive recreation spaces in the center, and a natural playscape in a rear yard,” according to a description of the plaza by city officials. 

“It’s a phenomenal accomplishment we’re looking at and sharing in. West Garfield Park has always been on the map, but now it has a shining diamond,” said Melvin Wesley, the city’s first deputy commissioner of planning and development. 

The city got help from the nonprofit West Side Health Authority in planning the roughly 6,000-square-foot park. The Lamar Johnson Collaborative, a Chicago architectural firm, designed the plaza. Ava Grey Designs created public art for the outdoor space. 

Alan Barker, an architect with Lamar Johnson, said the city’s POP! program resulted from the pandemic. 

“We saw PopGrove not as a response, but as an opportunity to catalyze the neighborhood and spur investment and growth in West Garfield Park.”

The city allocated $500,000 in Chicago Recovery Plan grants to pay for the plaza’s construction, management, and maintenance over the next three years. 

The site is next to a #20 CTA bus stop and surrounded on both sides by buildings owned by Crosses of Calvary church.  

In a statement, Department of Planning and Development (DPD) Commissioner Maurice Cox said POPGrove is part of a long-term strategy to revitalize blighted commercial corridors on the West and South sides. 

In addition to PopGrove, the city is also building a public plaza called Mahalia Jackson Court in the Chatham community on the city’s South Side. 

“Both projects will provide thoughtfully designed, transit-oriented destinations where residents can gather together and enjoy their neighborhoods,” Cox stated. 

Last year, the city opened another POP! plaza on the corner of Chicago and Lockwood avenues in the Soul City Corridor business district. 

Ald. Jason Ervin (28th) said the public spaces are essential for building community on the West Side. 

“West Garfield Park, in my opinion, has been one of the most starved communities in the city, and now we’re starting to see great investment and great things,” Ervin said.