As bulbs emerge from the muddy thaw of winter and tight buds loosen their petals on tree branches, the dormant 61st Street Community Garden waits to be cultivated for another growing season in Woodlawn. And as members of the 61st Street Community Garden dust off their trowels and gloves in preparation for softening their plots’ soil and planting seeds for future bounty, the University of Chicago silently sets in motion another phase of its South Campus Plan.
This past month, Jack Spicer, coordinator of the 61st Street Community Garden, was made aware in a note by Sonya Malunda, Associate Vice-President for Civic Engagement at the University of Chicago, of “the future need to relocate” the 61st Street Garden. Its present site at 61st Street and Dorchester Avenue is to become the home of the Chicago Theological Seminary in 2012, and construction staging will begin after the 2009 growing season. This note, made available online by Jamie Kalven at the Invisible Institute, a local organization dedicated to collaborative social justice initiatives, announced the inevitable end of the Garden’s twenty-year presence in the neighborhood. While Malunda assured Spicer the University of Chicago would collaborate in efforts to relocate the Garden, she gently reminded him that the Garden had been in fact a “short-term situation” all along, suggesting that the similarly dormant South Campus Plan was waiting for germination all these growing seasons.
In an essay drawing attention to the “61st Street Community Garden at Risk,” Kalven not only summarizes the detailed community history of the Garden, but also considers the deep implications of such a relocation in the Woodlawn area, posing such questions as “Are University planners properly valuing the garden as an asset (to the UofC as well as the community)? What will be lost? Is use of the garden site for construction staging an operational necessity? Are there alternatives?” His questions remain unanswered and just as urgent as community members reformulate their own plans for gardening this coming season. It appears that only the University of Chicago will be bringing out its shovels and pulling on its gloves this season.