Starting on Friday and continuing through Monday, the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) hosted its annual convention at McCormick Place in Chicago. It was my first national convention and from what I’ve heard it has also been a record year with approximately 6,000 attendees. In comparison to architects and engineers, we’re a relatively small professional group so it feels like you’re never more than six degrees of separation from one another. Regardless of knowing the people sitting around me during the lectures and the tour of three cultural neighborhoods in Chicago (Chinatown, Pilsen, and Little Village), I had a great time.
There’s something very energizing about being surrounded by people who share your passions, speak your general professional language, and openly share their ideas and struggles with you. There were talks on gentrification and environmental justice, on designing the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, on coordinating and constructing Governors Island in New York, and a number of firm profiles that ranged from residential design, to commercial design, to international design, and all the way to eco-lodges with indigenous people. What a varied group!
I wasn’t able to take many pictures because the convention area was a no-photo zone, except for ASLA photographers, but I did take a few pictures from my tour of the Chicago neighborhoods that I am happy to share. We did a quick run through of Ping Tom Park and the Chinatown neighborhood. Bonus for those who go to the park, if you exit at S. Wells St, turn right down wells and look left (down the first alley) and you’ll see a house with beautifully painted railings and fence (black with gold accents). Of course I didn’t take a picture as I was trying to keep with the group and running to the next stop, but you should check it out. Let the mystery of what it looks like lure you towards Chinatown.
After Chinatown, we loaded ourselves onto the bus and headed to the Pilsen neighborhood to look at the ruins of the Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church and the community open space for its neighbors that was created by John Podmajerksy (whose family still owns the church ruins and all the properties surrounding the open space). It’s a nice open area that fosters art and creativity with its central stage. The stage could certainly use some maintenance, but it’s nice to hear that it’s being used instead of being torn down.
Afterwards we went to the Benito Juarez Community Academy (which I didn’t take a picture of) where there was an adjacent courtyard/park. It serves as a performance space, an area for the farmer’s market, and any number of other things requiring a large space. No pictures, but you’ll recognize it by the number of deteriorating bronze statues donated by Mexican officials. Pilsen has one of the lowest rates of open space so this is really a great amenity for the community.