New Group Looking To Restore Empty Belmont Ave. Lots

By Sam Charles | Friday, October 26, 2012

One property the Belmont Open Space Initiative is looking at is 1908 W. Belmont Ave. Courtesy: Erin Dowdall

One Roscoe Village resident is taking it upon herself to beautify and restore a stretch of Belmont Ave. between Ravenswood and Western Ave. and turn empty lots into community-accessible areas.

Dissatisfied with the state of some lots on Belmont, student and organizer Erin Dowdall, has formed the Belmont Open Space Initiative with the hope of restoring the dilapidated plots into healthy natural urban environments accessible to the community. According the group’s website, future plans for the lots may include nature playscapes, demonstration gardens, community gardens and community event space.

“My initial approach is through community involvement,” Dowdall said. “Typical parts of restoring these lots would be an initial cleanup, removing anything that does belong, removing any weeds, garbage or shrubs. Anything that doesn’t belong there.”

She also said the group would perform a soil test to check for potential contamination.

The group, still in its infancy, is focusing on a few properties in particular right now.

“My target space right now is the 1908 W. Belmont [Avenue] lot, because it’s kind of primed and ready to,” Dowdall said.

The lot, Dowdall said, is privately owned and currently in the foreclosure process with the city. She is also looking into 1840 W. Belmont Ave. as another potential site.

Dowdall said she hopes to have one or two properties by Spring 2013.

The Belmont Open Space Initiative is not seeking to buy the properties, but instead work the owners, and in some cases the City, to lease them or reach an agreement to use them in the interest of the public good.

Dowdall is the only member of the group as it stands now, but she said support has been strong already.

The idea to clean up the stretch of Belmont from Ashland to Kedzie avenues came to Dowdall after driving to a from her home in Roscoe Village to the Belmont Blue Line to pick up and drop off her husband who frequently travels out of O’Hare International Airport.

“I drive this block all the time and I see these decrepit lots,” Dowdall said. “Every time I’d see it I’d think ‘I could do something with that.’”

Dowdall first saw the power of community organizing when she lived in New York City, and she believes that kind of mentality can be transferred to her new project.

“I recently relocated back to Chicago from Brooklyn, and I had been involved in several community gardening and farm sustainability projects,” Dowdall said. “I’ve seen it firsthand, once someone takes the initiative and gets out there, people get really excited about what’s going on and stop by start generating support.”

Dowdall said that she plans on filing the Belmont Open Space Initiative as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit group.

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