George Brown College students and faculty help Chicago tackle sustainability issues in underserved communities

To commemorate Earth Day, students and faculty from George Brown College’s Institute without Boundaries (IwB) recently revealed the results of an interdisciplinary consultation process focused on revitalizing three derelict and underserved Chicago neighbourhoods to promote urban renewal and community engagement. West Englewood, Englewood and Woodlawn are featured in the city’s Green Healthy Neighbourhoods plan.

In partnership with the City of Chicago, Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago Architecture Foundation and CannonDesign, the IwB led a design charrette in early April 2014 that connected students with community groups, stakeholders and advisors. Through brainstorming and expert consultation during the charrette, students developed concepts, prototypes and refined solutions aimed at creating healthy and sustainable urban communities in these three neighbourhoods.

“Engaging students and residents in designing healthier, more competitive and more sustainable Chicago neighbourhoods brings great insights and real opportunities,” says Karen Wiegert, Chief Sustainability Officer, City of Chicago. “We congratulate all involved in envisioning a more sustainable city.”

Based on the themes of urban agriculture, arts and culture, health and wellness, 21st-century main street revitalization and decentralized advanced manufacturing, the students’ designs recommended:

*expanding farmers’ markets and providing produce grown in the area in corner stores to transform Englewood into a productive and resilient community through urban agriculture

*creating a new Chicago loop/arts promenade within the vacant lots in the Washington Park neighbourhood to provide a safe and accessible space promoting the local economy and spurring creativity

*teaching residents to design and manufacture safe and sustainable housing, bicycles for inter-neighbourhood transportation and retaining facilities for the products made in the area to create jobs and be a catalyst for positive change

*leveraging partnerships with the city and building new partnerships with educational institutions and private enterprise to connect residents with “urban rooms” on empty lots that promote play (sports), movement (walking/biking paths), work (urban gardens/education), and rest (libraries/art spaces)

*leveraging existing facilities and building new infrastructure on main street to revitalize green spaces, create natural storm waterways and produce sustainable energy and light to create safer, more accessible areas.

“Our students from the Institute without Boundaries are bringing green urban design and infrastructure to meet a real inner-city need,” says Luigi Ferrera, Acting Dean, Arts and Design, George Brown College. “The concepts our students developed for the City of Chicago are not only innovative and sustainable, they are solutions that can be replicated by communities in any number of cities to connect open spaces, spur community activation and improve neighbourhoods.” 

This initiative is part of a larger IwB Regional Ecologies project looking at how gateway cities – Toronto, New York and Chicago – operate within their regional contexts and how they are connected to each other.

For more information about the Institute Without Boundaries, please visit