BRONZEVILLE — Sythera Pride-Paulus and her family moved to Bronzeville in 2018 — but “it feels like we’d lived here forever,” she said.
The family — Sythera and her husband, J.P. Paulus; and their daughters, Mia and Faith Paulus — felt so welcomed in the neighborhood they immediately decided to buy a vacant lot adjacent to their home and transform it into a community garden. It took longer than expected due to some pandemic delays, but the major part of the work finished up in October, J.P. Paulus said.
Along the way, they’ve gotten inspiration and help from their neighbors.
The Paulus family bought the lot through the Cook County Land Bank Authority, an agency born in 2013 in response to the large amount of vacant lots around the city following the housing crisis. The land bank makes it easier for people to buy the properties by “clearing the tax, clearing the title,” said county Commissioner Bridget Gainer.
The land bank now has more than 550 small developers — most of them Black or Latino — who bought properties to create community gardens, residential units and other projects, Gainer said.
“Most of all, we realized that there was a huge number of people that were interested in redeveloping communities,” she said.
The Pride-Paulus family is among them.
“We moved to the neighborhood and immediately walked to [the land bank] to put down the application with the design for the garden extension,” Pride-Paulus said.
Their community garden, which will open in the spring at 440 E. 46th St., is an extension of a larger community garden that was built in 2011 across the street. That bigger garden was also built in a vacant lot; besides being a space for growing tomatoes, cucumbers and cabbage, it has hosted several community events.
Arnold McBlackwell and his brother, Emile McBlackwell, take care of the larger garden full time, but they are supported by a block club of around 20 people. They have concerts, barbecues, movie nights, yoga classes and Juneteenth celebrations.
Everyone in the community can come and pick whatever they want, and “the only rule is to always leave something to someone else,” said Arnold McBlackwell.
The garden also gives neighborhood children a chance to learn how to grow plants, he said.
“My granddaughter always says that watching the plants grow gives you the confidence in your own growth,” Arnold McBlackwell said.
It was that garden’s work that inspired the Pride-Paulus family.
“The community garden was our true inspiration,” J.P. Paulus said. “We wanted to share healthy fruit and vegetables with our neighbors and share a sense of community with everyone.”
The neighbors from the bigger garden are helping the Pride-Paulus family learn lawn maintenance and gardening.
“None of us has any previous knowledge about gardening,” Pride-Paulus said. “But everyone is helping and supporting us.”
In the spring, the family will start planting. They’ve received several requests from their neighbors: cilantro, cauliflowers, broccoli, carrots. And strawberries — for their daughters, Paulus said.
The local Girls Scouts already reached out, and they’ll help during the planting process, Pride-Paulus said.
“A garden is a sign of new life, and it gives people new ideas,” Gainer said. People can see that it’s an option, “and they also see that it’s not it doesn’t require the city, or a foundation, or somebody from the outside. It’s only done with the people in the neighborhood.”
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