Vacant lots – shrouded in wild flowers, speckled with garbage and abandoned without care – have long permeated the blocks of Englewood, a neighborhood on the south side of Chicago. Their locations don’t discriminate. They sit next to family homes and businesses, foreclosed properties or other vacant lots. How they came to be abandoned is often unclear. They’ve been that way for so long.

Through a City of Chicago-sponsored Large Lots Program, residents of Englewood have the opportunity to revitalize their blocks by purchasing vacant spaces for a single dollar. The only requirements are that applicants already own property on the same block of the lot they wish to purchase, and they state their plan to repurpose the lot.

The City sold 276 lots to community members in greater Englewood in December 2014 as part of an initial pilot of the Large Lots Program. In May 2016, 16 lot owners received small grants of $1,600-$2,500 from LISC Chicago through Teamwork Englewood. Sammiria Malcone, Linda Maalik and Delece Williams are long-time residents who decided to take part in the creative placemaking program. They spent their funds on prepping their properties for a comeback.

Though varying in vision, all share a common goal: To create something beautiful and useful for their community.  However, despite initial funding, the projects haven't been without setbacks.  The process is time-consuming, costly and often thankless.  Yet it's one small step in a revitalizing a community desperately in need.

This project is ongoing.

Delece Williams and hr granddaughter stand in front of one of the two lots she purchased on South Parnell Avenue in Englewood.  This lot will be a Kidz Korner play lot.  Kids Korner is a nonprofit for which Williams works.  

Delece Williams and hr granddaughter stand in front of one of the two lots she purchased on South Parnell Avenue in Englewood.  This lot will be a Kidz Korner play lot.  Kids Korner is a nonprofit for which Williams works.  

Williams' second lot sits next to a vacant property, which her grandparents once owned.  "I wanted to continue my grandparents' legacy," she said.  "They were very valuable in the community.  They housed the homeless.  They cooked for the whole block."  The lot will serve as an outdoor family venue, complete with a garden, gazebo and outdoor festivals.

Williams' second lot sits next to a vacant property, which her grandparents once owned.  "I wanted to continue my grandparents' legacy," she said.  "They were very valuable in the community.  They housed the homeless.  They cooked for the whole block."  The lot will serve as an outdoor family venue, complete with a garden, gazebo and outdoor festivals.

Wildflowers have taken over the lot Williams intends to develop for the kids.  "This is an opportunity for us to reconnect with families, even in a small way.  We want to take back the neighborhood, family by family," she said.  First, the ground has to be leveled.  Then she will rely on a grant from Kaboom! to build the playground.

Wildflowers have taken over the lot Williams intends to develop for the kids.  "This is an opportunity for us to reconnect with families, even in a small way.  We want to take back the neighborhood, family by family," she said.  First, the ground has to be leveled.  Then she will rely on a grant from Kaboom! to build the playground.

Williams and her granddaughter walk the ground of her lots.  "People are stressed out trying to survive, but we're hoping they will be more hands-on once it's underway," Williams said.  She estimates it will take more than 200 volunteers to complete the lots.

Williams and her granddaughter walk the ground of her lots.  "People are stressed out trying to survive, but we're hoping they will be more hands-on once it's underway," Williams said.  She estimates it will take more than 200 volunteers to complete the lots.

Sammiria Malcone shares some ideas with Chicago-based artist Amanda Williams, with whom she will working to develop the land.  She wants to develop her lot into a garden, "Back to Eden," which will be open to the daycare she and her mom run.  "The Large Lots Program really motivated me to push forward with what I'd wanted to do anyway," said Malcone.  "I want to make changes to the neighborhood.  The garden will show how to grow your own food and cook.  Maybe it will change the eating habits of the neighborhood."

Sammiria Malcone shares some ideas with Chicago-based artist Amanda Williams, with whom she will working to develop the land.  She wants to develop her lot into a garden, "Back to Eden," which will be open to the daycare she and her mom run.  "The Large Lots Program really motivated me to push forward with what I'd wanted to do anyway," said Malcone.  "I want to make changes to the neighborhood.  The garden will show how to grow your own food and cook.  Maybe it will change the eating habits of the neighborhood."

Malcone's lot has been vacant for as long as she can remember.  She moved next door in 2002.  Her mother lives on the other side of the lot.  "I don't know my neighbors very well, even though I've lived here for a long time," she said.  "I think it will bring the community together a little more.  We'll get to know each other a little more."

Malcone's lot has been vacant for as long as she can remember.  She moved next door in 2002.  Her mother lives on the other side of the lot.  "I don't know my neighbors very well, even though I've lived here for a long time," she said.  "I think it will bring the community together a little more.  We'll get to know each other a little more."

Malcone, her mother and Amanda Williams survey the lot and talk strategy.  "I don't have any experience doing anything like this," Malcone said.  "The whole experience, the learning, is exciting."

Malcone, her mother and Amanda Williams survey the lot and talk strategy.  "I don't have any experience doing anything like this," Malcone said.  "The whole experience, the learning, is exciting."

Malcone and Amanda Williams talk next steps and possible funding sources.  Fencing off the lot cost $3,000, putting her over the $2,500 stipend from LISC/Teamwork Englewood.  "We're making a sacrifice," she said.

Malcone and Amanda Williams talk next steps and possible funding sources.  Fencing off the lot cost $3,000, putting her over the $2,500 stipend from LISC/Teamwork Englewood.  "We're making a sacrifice," she said.

Williams shows a neighboring house for design inspiration.  Malcone wants to incorporate art in Back to Eden, but is relying on Williams to help steer her vision.

Williams shows a neighboring house for design inspiration.  Malcone wants to incorporate art in Back to Eden, but is relying on Williams to help steer her vision.

Linda Maalik finished her lot before Malcone and Delece Williams had begun.  With the help of one of her sons, she turned her lot, which is an extension of her home, into a serenity garden.  "I wanted to focus on a beautiful flower garden that I could look at and it would bring me joy," she said.  "From there, the rest unfolded."

Linda Maalik finished her lot before Malcone and Delece Williams had begun.  With the help of one of her sons, she turned her lot, which is an extension of her home, into a serenity garden.  "I wanted to focus on a beautiful flower garden that I could look at and it would bring me joy," she said.  "From there, the rest unfolded."

"A lot of people come by, take pictures, and give me compliments," said Maalik.  "I'm proud of something.  I'm proud of my yard.  Me and my son did it together.  It was hard and a lot of work, but we did it together."

"A lot of people come by, take pictures, and give me compliments," said Maalik.  "I'm proud of something.  I'm proud of my yard.  Me and my son did it together.  It was hard and a lot of work, but we did it together."

Contractor Romulous Bradley leveled both of Delece Williams' lots. The job ended up being more than Williams had budgeted, but Bradley volunteered some of his time and experience to make sure it went forward.  "I'm just happy someone is doing something with these spaces," he said.

Contractor Romulous Bradley leveled both of Delece Williams' lots. The job ended up being more than Williams had budgeted, but Bradley volunteered some of his time and experience to make sure it went forward.  "I'm just happy someone is doing something with these spaces," he said.

Malcone and her mother place flowers and lights inside box letters that spell Back to Eden.  "This art piece was important to me," she said, pointing at the sign.  "I want the children to understand the whole concept of Eden and relate it to their health."

Malcone and her mother place flowers and lights inside box letters that spell Back to Eden.  "This art piece was important to me," she said, pointing at the sign.  "I want the children to understand the whole concept of Eden and relate it to their health."

"A lot of people have walked up to inquire about what's going on," said Malcone.  "One of our neighbors even helped.  I've been here 14 years and I didn't know he was that type of person.  This project is creating a community already."

"A lot of people have walked up to inquire about what's going on," said Malcone.  "One of our neighbors even helped.  I've been here 14 years and I didn't know he was that type of person.  This project is creating a community already."

With the outdoor sign complete, Malcone will break for the winter and search for more funding.  She is optimistic: "Things have a way of working out. I'm still hopeful this will get done."

With the outdoor sign complete, Malcone will break for the winter and search for more funding.  She is optimistic: "Things have a way of working out. I'm still hopeful this will get done."