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Last Friday, the Study Chicago cohort dug deep to remember their high school Spanish classes for their visit to Little Village. The excursion was divided into two parts: the Toxics Tour led by Little Village Environmental Justice Organization’s (LVEJO) knowledgeable Joanna, and semi-structured free time to explore 26th Street.

LVEJO began in 1994 as the Gary School Environmental Justice Project. A group of parents organized in reaction to a dangerous roof re-tarring project at the school. Eventually renamed, LVEJO has conducted several other projects to help the Little Village locals with environmental racism problems over the years, including work to close the nearby Fisk and Crawford coal plants and to open La Villita Park. As explained by Joanna, the “first thing is always community involvement” in LVEJO’s approach to their various ventures.

The two-hour Toxics Tour began at LVEJO’s Seeds of Justice Community Garden. Study Chicago participants learned about the organization, explored the inter-generational garden area, and squealed at the garden’s bunnies, chickens, and quails. After, the tour went to another nearby brownfield where a trail is proposed. Currently lined with trash and difficult to walk on, this former railway is suggested to become the Little Village equivalent of The 606. However, Joanna was quick to point out that LVEJO will be engaging the community in the planning process in ways The 606 did not.

Enjoying the rare, nice Chicago weather, the Toxics Tour continued to the Cook County Jail. The massive, 96 acre site lined with an obscene amount of barbed wire seemed out of place next to the neighboring La Villita Park and single family homes. Before going to said park, the tour stopped at the stagnant, smelly Collateral Channel; a former sewer outlet for the city that LVEJO is currently trying to clean up and repurpose.

The tour ended at the gorgeous La Villita park. The Study Chicago cohort admired the baseball diamonds, skate park, basketball courts, soccer fields, and – perhaps more so than the other amenities - gawked at the massive playground. La Villita park was organized by LVEJO with significant, purposeful involvement from the community. Locals had input on what would be included in the park during community mapping exercises, voted on its name, and even decided to cap the toxic material the park sits on rather than pawn it off on some other community. The park currently struggles with funding and relies heavily on community volunteers to keep it safe and clean.

With the conclusion of the Toxics Tour, the Study Chicago group walked over to the “Bienvenidos a Little Village” sign on 26th Street. With the instruction from Chad to “go have fun,” we scattered off in various directions to explore the area. People ate at El Milagro, tried elotes from street vendors, and walked up and down the street doing a small scavenger hunt. 26th Street was bustling with activity; it was obvious why it brings in the second most tax revenue for the city after Michigan Avenue. The business-lined street is filled with people, music, murals, and food. We ended the day admiring the treats at La Baguette Bakery, a panaderia mexicana.

Photos from the excursion can be found here

By: Erica Maricich

May 26, 2016