Front yard ‘microparks’ pop up in East Chicago and Gary
When Keith Speaks heard of an Oak Park man who installed permanent seating in his front yard for himself and his neighbors to use, Speaks was intrigued.
As executive director of Neighborhoods Inc., a community development organization in the Calumet Region, Speaks is often on the lookout for innovative ways to strengthen neighborhoods by encouraging people get to know one another and their community.
So Speaks started “Please, Have a Seat!” a project that has installed nearly 30 benches for public use in the front yards of homeowners in East Chicago and Gary.
Speaks said the benches serve as a gathering place for residents and they provide places for people to sit and relax while walking. The “microparks” typically include a pressed concrete pad, a decorative bench and a planter.
The benches have “become the focal point for that block and brought a lot of people together that normally would not have even met,” said Speaks.
Thanks to Neighborhoods Inc., 22 microparks have been installed in East Chicago and another half-dozen have popped up in Gary.
The $1,000 installation cost for each bench has been funded by Foundations of East Chicago, a philanthropy funded by Resorts East Chicago Casino and Hotel. Funding also has come from the Legacy Foundation, the Knight Foundation, private donations and the Indiana energy company, NIPSCO.
According to a survey conducted by Neighborhoods Inc., feedback on the microparks has been overwhelmingly positive. Participants report that the benches have received plenty of use, improving the experience for pedestrians in the neighborhood while spurring conversations among neighbors.
While more microparks are planned for Gary, Hammond and Highland, Speaks said he currently has more requests than he can fill. So he’s beating the bushes for more funding.
“I enjoy it,” said one homeowner in East Chicago, about his new bench that sits adjacent to his sidewalk. “If people want to use it, sit down and take a rest, no problem. They’re more than welcome. This morning, my neighbor was sitting there with her granddaughter.”
For more information
If you live in the Calumet Region and are interested in having a bench installed, get in touch with Speaks at 219.844.1876 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Genaro Escarzaga contributed to this article and took the accompanying photos. Escarzaga is a volunteer Modeshift contributor.