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The conversion of an abandoned railroad line in Englewood into a 1.75-mile multi-use trail, otherwise known as the Englewood Nature Trail, will be designed and built with $20 million from the United States Department of Transportation’s RAISE award. Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s office announced Thursday that the route might open as soon as 2027 with federal funding.
The Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) and Department of Planning and Development (DPD) seek community feedback about the conversion project.
For context, Englewood is predominately a residential area with commercial activity on the main streets. The rail corridor was established in 1917 when the Pennsylvania Railroad built an elevated railway to connect with other nearby train lines, facilities, and service industrial enterprises close to 59th Street. Trains quit using the railway in the early 1960s after most companies along the corridor either closed or moved.
The Chicago Plan Commission adopted the “Green Healthy Neighborhoods Plan” in 2014 as a result of substantial public participation. The plan envisions the route as the spine of an urban agriculture area that occupies neighboring land and other productive uses.
Gensler, an architectural firm, will supervise the trail’s project management and urban design. Botanical City and Planning Resources Inc. will oversee the landscape architecture.
According to Mayor Lightfoot, “This equity-focused investment in the Englewood community will serve as a major catalyst for revitalization. The Englewood Nature Trail is both a physical connector and pathway to community connectivity and opportunity. The trail, which was importantly developed as part of a community-led process, will benefit Englewood residents for years to come.”
Neighbors in Englewood have played a vital role in the planning and design of the nature walk. “Anton Seals, lead steward at Grow Greater Englewood, will assist in spearheading the work,” according to Block Club Chicago.
Englewood officials decided over 20 years ago that the abandoned Norfolk Southern rail spur on 59th Street would be an excellent trail. However, the route’s progress was hindered by the need for environmental remediation and Norfolk Southern’s contentious expansion of a neighboring rail yard, which complicated the acquisition of the city’s property through a land swap.
The Elevated Nature Trail won’t be a carbon copy of the well-known 606/Bloomingdale Trail, according to community leaders. Instead, the Englewood Nature Trail is designed more as an elevated natural space and less as a biking route. Alongside the abandoned rail route, a series of urban farms are also envisioned for the trail.
Residents Hopeful the Trail Boosts Community
The Englewood Nature Trail “is an opportunity to bring Englewood and West Englewood together. We think that’s important,” Seals explained. He envisions positive changes for the community.
Englewood’s future seems to be improving. However, it has not always been like this; the neighborhood has experienced many problems due to white flight and disinvestment. For example, African Americans made up about 11% of the community’s population in 1950. By 1990, that percentage increased to 96%. In addition, Englewood’s economy started to dwindle as violence and property crimes became out of hand, and residents started to leave the area as big retailers and job prospects disappeared.
Entire blocks were unoccupied as homes, and other structures burned down or were abandoned. In the early 20th century, Englewood’s population peaked at 90,000 however, by 2000, it had decreased to 40,000. Additionally, the unemployment rate in Englewood and the nearby city of West Englewood is 27%.
In 2010, 80% of children under 18 lived in households that received public assistance, with 46% of Englewood residents and 38% of West Englewood residents living below the poverty level. In addition, code violations, deterioration, and other issues have led to the neighborhood being labeled as a “blighted area.” Moreover, 15 of Englewood’s 23 public schools have received low performance or failing grades from Chicago Public Schools.
Written By Dylan Santoyo
Edited by Sheena Robertson
WTTW: Englewood Nature Trail Among ‘Green Infrastructure’ Projects Chicago Has Slated for a Funding Infusion; by Patty Wetli
Chicago: Englewood Nature Trail
Block Club Chicago: Englewood’s Multimillion-Dollar Nature Trail Is Moving Forward. Locals Want It To Be For Neighbors, By Neighbors; Atavia Reed