Community-Designed Pergola Opens in South Shore

July 6, 2023

Department of Planning and Development    312.744.3334

A public party in Chicago’s South Shore neighborhood will celebrate the completion of a community-designed pergola, the culmination of a months-long intergenerational design process in collaboration with the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE) and the Department of Planning and Development (DPD). Residents are invited to attend the event at South Merrill Community Garden, 7030 S. Merrill Ave., on Saturday, July 8, from noon to 2 p.m.

Artists Natalie Perkins and Yaritza Guillen led the pergola project, one of five artist projects that each received $50,000 commissions from DCASE as part of the implementation of the We Will Chicago citywide plan. An intergenerational collaboration informed the pergola’s design, including input from O’Keeffe School of Excellence elementary students, garden leadership, South Shore residents and members of NeighborSpace, a nonprofit that preserves and sustains gardens on behalf of community groups.

“We’ve waited six years for something that captures and honors the spirit of us,” said Dianne Hodges, leader of the South Merrill Community Garden. “This pergola is a thoughtful collaboration and will provide a safe and sheltering space for kids, families and elders in our community.”

Founded by local students more than six years ago, the community garden is an anchor in the South Shore neighborhood. The pergola project builds upon the garden’s history and will foster a welcoming and comfortable space by providing essential shade and shelter for youth and older adults who frequent the garden.

Handcrafted, colored, vinyl roof panels provide protection against harsh UV light and rain while letting in sunlight and wind. Laser-cut sliding panels were created by students from O’Keeffe, who also designed story panels depicting their experiences of community, friendship, culture, art and nature. An additional engagement with Genesis Cooperative and Lost Boyz Inc. resulted in the planting of a colorful native butterfly garden.

The event on July 8 will feature the sounds of DJ Simmy, MCing by Khaalique Hanif, kid-friendly contests, games and a graffiti T-shirt station, among other ways to connect with the We Will Chicago citywide plan, which was formally adopted by Chicago Plan Commission in February 2023. Perkins and Guillen conceived the project to respond to goals for the plan’s Environment, Climate and Energy pillar.

Natalie Perkins is a vibrant community advocate committed to helping neighborhoods discover the beauty and potential of built community through enhanced green and public programming. She has worked diligently in the last eight years as the volunteer education Coordinator at the South Merrill Community Garden, providing inclusive, experiential and exciting programmatic activation for the garden community. Currently Natalie works as a senior steward for NeighborSpace urban land trust.

Yaritza Guillen is an urban planner, horticulturist and environmentalist with a strong focus on interdisciplinary practices, community-based design and story mapping. She has worked with nonprofits and designers to educate institutions on effective ways to collaborate with BIPOC communities throughout the South and West sides of Chicago. She engages with multiple projects in an expanded capacity as a cultural producer and community planner.


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