An empty lot in Chicago and Lockwood is being turned into a colorful space for local residents and businesses to enjoy.
In partnership with Austin Coming Together, the architecture and design group Lamar Johnson Collaborative (LJC) is working closely with the Austin community to make the underutilized corner a place the neighborhood can be proud of.
Inspired by lively Pop Art such as works by Keith Haring, the project is appropriately named POPCourts.
The project is a collaboration between the Austin Chicago Avenue Cultural Corridor, the Westside Health Authority, the United Way of Metro Chicago and the Chicago Department of Planning and Development.
When completed, the property will have a basketball court, space for pop-up markets, a lawn to sit on, a space for food trucks, and a mural painted by local artists.
The new space will house the 40 Acres Fresh Market, provide overflow seating areas for nearby restaurants, and serve as a place for residents to sit and relax, according to the Austin Weekly News, which covered last month’s groundbreaking ceremony.
The Austin Weekly News Austin reported that artist and community organizer Vanessa Stokes, who manages SSA 72, was looking to do something with a vacant lot, and the city’s planning department was trying to create community hangouts as part of the INVEST South / West initiative to accomplish.
“I hope people see that we can support businesses along our corridors on the west side,” Stokes told the Austin Weekly News. “I think people think it’s difficult to do something here, and it’s not really that difficult once you have the community’s commitment.”
In an interview with AustinTalks, Stokes noted that she’s pretty familiar with the corner of Chicago and Lockwood, as her family lives just a block away.
Stokes came up with the idea of using the space for outdoor seating after social unrest last summer made it clear what Austin was missing. She was able to secure funding from the planning department to create the space.
In collaboration with Paint the City, Stokes is working with artists Missy Perkins and Barrett Keithly on a mural to be displayed on the east wall. What the mural will reveal will come as a surprise, said Stokes.
Lamar Johnson Collaborative has done other work in the area. An ongoing project is at a former CPS elementary school in Madison and Central that is being converted into a workforce innovation center.
Lamar Johnson Collaborative also works with a group of architects and designers called All Reimagined Chicago who are working on COVID relief efforts across the city.
Max Komnenich, the lead designer at POPCourts, noticed how other, more affluent areas of Chicago could block streets for restaurants and farmers’ markets. Austin wasn’t as lucky during the pandemic.
Komnenich said one of the main reasons he wanted to get into architecture was to create spaces where people can improve on what they are already doing.
“I think if you don’t have the resource of space to support your vision and goals in life, you will be handicapped. We can actually create a space that makes it easier to achieve our goals and live our lives the best we can – I think that’s the power of architecture. “