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Great Lakes Ecosystems
Begin Hierarchical Links EPA Home > Great Lakes Ecosystems >End Hierarchical LinksGreen Landscaping > Bridge of Seeds > Part Two
Part 1: Context and Needs
Part 2: Partners and Property
Part 3: Analysis
Part 4: Conclusion
Memorandum on  Landscaping


Bridge of Seeds
Chicago Native Seed Gardens Study

PART II: Partners & Property 

Chapter 5

At this time the most qualified organizations to lead the ongoing management of this venture are: University of Illinois Cooperative Extension Service; or a newly formed professional association lead by existing commercial growers. The advantage both of these groups would have is their considerable experience with commercial horticulture programs. Though other organizations may have more experience with community outreach or biodiversity issues, the ultimate force that is going to drive this program is economics. The need to serve the business needs of any newly formed native seed gardens is paramount.

The other organizations and individuals listed here have only expressed interest in the native seed gardens concept. This list is not intended to imply that these entities will commit resources to this proposal. The exceptions to this are the Great Lakes National Program Office (GLNPO) of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Chicago District Office both of whom are interested in funding additional planning and/or research to advance this proposal. These organizations should be contacted directly as listed below.

Not For Profit
Community Organizations
North Kenwood/Oakland Community Conservation Council
Hyde Park Community Garden
Young Urban Preservation Society (YUPS)
The Nature Conservancy (TNC)
- Chicago Bioreserve project
- Volunteer Stewardship Network (VSN)
Openlands Project
Economic Development/Business
Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT)
The Resource Center
Prairie Nursery
The Natural Garden
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA)
Great Lakes National Program Office (GLNPO), 77 West Jackson Blvd, Chicago IL 60604
- 1995 Grant Guidance includes native seed gardens topic for potential funding.
Department of the Army
Chicago District, Corps of Engineers, 111 North Canal Street, Chicago IL 60606-7206
- Planning Assistance to States program can provide 50/50 cost share for planning and research.
Forest Preserve District of Cook County (FPDCC), confirmed for pilot project with CitySpace
Chicago Botanic Gardens
- Green Chicago Program
City of Chicago
- CitySpace Project, native seed garden is currently a pilot project
- Department of Environment
- Department of Planning and Development
- Board of Education
Chicago Park District
- Garfield Park Conservatory
Joliet Junior College, Department of Biology
University of Illinois - Cooperative Extension Service
The Nature Conservancy (TNC)
- Prairie University
- Mighty Acorns
Chicago Botanic Garden
- Green Chicago
Janet Chen, U-Garden
Lindsey McGee, TNC
Nancy Klehm, landscape consultant
Potential Contacts
Non-profit Conservation/Environmental
American Society of Landscape Architects
American Planning Association
Architects Designers and Planners for Social Responsibility
Audubon Society
Chicago Chapter/American Institute of Architects

- Urban Planning Commission
- Commission on the Environment
Community Land Use Network (CLUN)
Illinois Association of Environmental Professionals
Illinois Native Plant Society
Sierra Club
Society for Ecological Restoration
Community Groups
See 1993 Directory of Community Organizations in Chicago published by Institute of Urban Life for listing of community organizations

West Side Association for Community Organizing (WACO)
Leadership Council for Metropolitan Open Communities

Applied Ecological Services
Country Wetlands Nursery
County Road Greenhouses
Genesis Gardens
The Growing Place
LaFayette Home Nursery
The Natural Garden
The Planter's Palette
Prairie Nursery
Prairie Ridge Nursery
Prairie Sun Consultants
Windrift Prairie Shop

The following retail stores carry the Seeds of Change book and/or seed packets. (List reprinted with permission of Conscious Choice magazine.)38

The Urban Gardener
Sherwyn's Health Food Store
Lincoln Park Zoological Society
Whole Foods
Heartland General Store
South Suburban
Sunrise Farm
Sunnycrest Greenhouse
West Suburban
Platt Hill Nursery Inc.
Soup to Nuts
Fresh Fields
Alternative Garden Supply
Quest Books
North Suburban
Sweetgrass Market
Pasquesi Home & Farm Supply
Nature's Harvest
Green Earth
The Upstart Crow Ltd.
Emerson's Garden
Allway's Healthy
Nature's Cornucopia
A Way of Life
Blue Sky Natural Foods Market
Chalet Nursery
Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT)
Chicago Economic Development Law Project
Urban Resources Partnership (URP)
South Shore Bank
Woodstock Institute
Chicago Public Library
- Adult Education Services
- Business Info Center
- Science/Tech Info Center
- Nature Connections
Chicago State University
City of Chicago

- Mayor's Office
        - Employment and Training
- Department of Streets and Sanitation
        - Bureau of Forestry
Governor's State University
Illinois Department of Conservation

- Volunteer & Intern Program
- Division of Natural Heritage
Illinois Department of Agriculture
Illinois Department of Commerce and Community Affairs

- Marketing
Illinois EPA
Illinois Department of Public Aid

- Project Chance, Bureau of Employment and Training
Illinois Department  of Transportation
Illinois Department of Energy and Natural Resources
Moraine Valley College
Northeastern Illinois University
State Board of Education

- Vocational & Technical Information
University of Illinois at Chicago
U.S. Department of Interior

- National Biological Survey
U.S. Department of Transportation
- Prairie University
Lincoln Park Conservatory
Field Museum of Chicago
City of Chicago

- Master Gardener Program

Chapter 6
Property Acquisition

Without land there can be no gardens. The acquisition of land for garden use is by far the most difficult business task native seed growers will face. Contrary to the fact that some Chicago communities have over 75% of their area as vacant land, acquiring this land is extremely difficult. This has been the experience of community gardeners, business owners and real estate developers alike. Tax delinquencies, phantom or multiple landowners, land trusts, bankruptcies, toxic contamination, neighborhood resistance and governmental restraints are some of the issues that can complicate any land deal. An additional obstacle for people interested in vacant City owned land can take the form of holds on property by various City of Chicago departments. Individual City departments sometimes put a hold on vacant City owned land for their future needs. Unfortunately, some of these parcels have been vacant for years and the future uses are not defined at all.

Fortunately, Chicago is blessed with several City of Chicago and non-profit programs that strive to make vacant land acquisition easier.39 Vacant land owned by the City or private land that is tax delinquent can be purchased or transferred to private or non-profit organizations through the City's Accelerated City Real Estate Sales (ACRES) program, Special Sales Program, Tax Reactivation Program and through Urban Renewal, Conservation and Redevelopment Areas and Commercial Districts.40 Obtaining property through these programs takes from 6 to 18 months if all goes well. Purchasing City owned land involves more political savvy since the sale of City property must be approved by the Chicago City Council. While it is not necessary that the local alderperson champion the buyer's cause, it will help a great deal. Conversely, if the alderperson opposes the sale the chances of acquiring the property from the City are about nil. The tax delinquent property acquisition process is less political. These programs are designed to get properties back on the tax rolls as quickly as possible. However, this route takes more time, money and legal assistance. It is also encouraging that Cook County property records are now automated which makes it easier to access ownership and tax information. Another option that could be explored is leasing vacant land from the City of Chicago Department of General Services.

There are several non-governmental resources to assist people with land acquisition. The Community Economic Development Law Project (CEDLP) assists community groups in need with land acquisition and other economic development issues by matching them with attorneys that will perform legal services on a pro bono basis. CEDLP, the Chicago Association of Neighborhood Development Organizations (CANDO) and Openlands Project came together in 1989 to form the Community Land Use Network (CLUN) which recently published the Property Acquisition Resource Guide. The guide contains a wealth of information on federal, county and City of Chicago programs which are directly applicable to native seed garden business ventures. Funding for CLUN expired at the end of 1993, but the coalition could be reinstated (with renewed funding) to tackle the specific challenges of land acquisition for native seed gardens. CLUN would be an excellent organization for supporting the native seed gardens business community since it addresses obtaining vacant land for profit and job generating business opportunities.

CitySpace participants also identified the need for pro-bono legal services when non-profit groups wish to acquire tax delinquent parcels. Joel Birman, assistant corporation counsel for the City of Chicago gave the same advice in The Neighborhood Works, "Like any kind of real estate transaction, you need a good attorney. Pushing the City is the hardest part..."41 CitySpace experts estimated that the legal work for acquisition of tax delinquent properties takes approximately 18 months to complete. In the same article Barbara Shaw, a consultant for the Community Investment Corporation, stated, "Anytime you're involved in a government program you have to add time, no question about it. But it's a matter of a trade-off--if you get a property that's worth $250,000 for nothing, it might be worth nine months to a year to get the paperwork through."42 Land acquisition, along with loan review periods and crop growing cycles, will effect the timing of business creation.

The process of organizing a community to remove debris and graffiti, combat gang activity and care for its open spaces makes it much more attractive to private real estate developers. This can have both positive and negative impacts on inner-city, native seed garden businesses. The obvious positive impact is that the neighborhood is a better place to live. Also, once a vacant and degraded property has been improved for a garden and begins to generate profits that particular parcel has a greater market value thus improving property values. The possible negative impact is that native seed gardens located on leased land can face eviction soon after they clean up a site and establish their business. According to Elizabeth Tyler of the Chicago Botanic Garden's, Green Chicago community gardening program, five to six of their member groups have lost their leases to private developers during the last ten years. Interestingly, these gardens were not lost during the planning and acquisition stages but after two to three years of operation. Developers targeted the specific property that contained a community garden because it may already have a cleared title, physical improvements and the attention of caring people. The same situation is even more eminent where gardens have been established by squatting. A community managed garden in Hyde Park that has existed for 25 years without a lease is currently facing removal by its private landowner who wants to sell it for development.

This is an important issue if people are going to be basing their livelihoods on the profits generated from an urban garden. As stated by Tyler, relocating a garden not only disrupts the growing cycle of the plants but "the human connection is lost" as well. This could be very detrimental to a seed production business since saleable seed can sometimes take several years to produce. Generally commercial tenants are not compensated when their lease expires for site improvements they have made. Leases should be negotiated with cancellation notice periods that are as long as possible to give the business manager some time to relocate plants during proper weather conditions. The best solution to this problem is to obtain clear title to the property through purchase or transfer.

Some community economic development groups have received vacant land for as ittle as $1 since they will serve specific community needs by rehabilitating the property or providing low-income housing. However, the native seed garden concept is envisioned as a profit making business venture. As such, these businesses will be expected to pay real estate taxes or they may be seen as having an unfair advantage over other businesses that may eventually desire the same piece of land. Despite the vast quantities of vacant land within Chicago, it should not be seen as free for the taking. Private developers and businesses will also be competing for the vacant land that the numerous City programs attempt to get back on the tax rolls.

In addition to analyzing a particular site's physical limitations, such as shadows cast by nearby buildings or access to water, consideration should be given to adjacent land uses and ownership. Small, inner-city lots can become land locked due to their small size and a multiplicity of adjacent buildings or landowners. This can be an restraint to future business expansion. Sites contaminated with toxic waste pose another type of problem that is getting more and more attention recently. These urban sites are termed "brownfields" (in contrast to "greenfields" located in rural areas) because of their long history of environmental abuse which often leaves them both ecologically and economically lifeless. Unfortunately, the federal government's clean-up programs, like Superfund, have been slow to address this growing problem. Crain's Chicago Business recently reported that, "The burden industrial pollution places on urban redevelopment is an unintended consequence of a key notion behind much environmental law--namely, passing along the costs of pollution to polluters. Where that notion runs into trouble is that polluters often can't be found or haven't enough money, leaving anyone else with a connection to a site (a subsequent owner, for example) potentially liable for the full clean-up cost." in addition, "Environmental jeopardy can be a third strike against redevelopment in the city's poorest neighborhoods". The Superfund program is currently being revised to avoid these problems, however inner-city communities may not see widespread federal cleanup efforts since, according to the Crain's article, "Despite profound environmental hazards, there isn't a single site in the city identified as a high priority for federal cleanup,...The logic behind this unlikely situation is fairly simple. The motivation for federal action is public health risk. And the most common kind of pollution that endangers the public is groundwater contamination. But Chicago gets its water from Lake Michigan. Ipso facto: no public health risk."43 This situation is not limited to urban areas.44 Rural areas in Illinois also receive large doses of toxic pesticides and fertilizers during agricultural crop production. Environmental complications can become another hurdle that slows down and adds expense to the land acquisition process. Native seed garden proponents need to address these potential problems not only from the perspective of liability and human health, but also the possible effect contamination may have on the genetic development of the crops. This issue is discussed further in the chapter on ecological analysis.

Inventory of Vacant Land

The CitySpace project currently represents an excellent opportunity for accessing information about both public and private vacant land for use as native seed gardens. The single most important technical achievement that the CitySpace project will accomplish, with regards to native seed gardens, is the creation of a computer information resource system that inventories vacant and open land within the City of Chicago. A goal of the CitySpace project is to disseminate information to communities in a pro-active manner. The CitySpace Neighborhood Spaces Task Force focused on getting direct assistance and open space into neighborhoods in specific ways. The CitySpace staff recognizes the need to provide information in an easily understandable format, "Even experts with access to information and technical resources struggle with land acquisition." says Patti Gallagher, Director of the CitySpace project. Unfortunately, the funding for the project will end in March of 1995. At this time it is hoped that the City of Chicago Department of Planning and Development will assume some of the responsibilities for disseminating property information.

John Appel, of the City of Chicago, Department of Housing, merged together the following six files based on Permanent Identification Numbers (PIN) from city and county computer records for use in creating the CitySpace open space plan.

  1. Maps based on Harris file information will be completed as part of the CitySpace project. The Harris file contains basic parcel information including taxpayer identification and tax delinquent status. In the past the Harris file has been housed and updated on a two year basis by the Department of Housing. The last update was completed in approximately 1991. The file is now being moved to the City of Chicago, Department of Planning and Development and will be kept on the City's main-frame computer. The Harris file is also linked to Cook County's REDI file (see below).
    1. The CitySpace file has all the city parcels coded as "vacant."
    2. The CitySpace file contains about 93,000 vacant parcels.
    3. The CitySpace file contains about 14,500 vacant residential side yards.
    4. Vacant parcels which have been cleared, fenced or paved for parking.
    5. The CitySpace file contains all cases of right-of-way (i.e. parcels which lie entirely or partially in the right-of-way of streets, alleys, waterways, expressways, railroads, etc.).
    6. All 3,000 railroad parcels are included.
    7. About 2,100 records will be included which are coded as vacant land by the county, but are also shown to have a structure on the parcel by the Harris file.

      1. In some cases the Harris file may not reflect a demolition.
      2. In other cases, there may be a problem with the county code. Some of these apparently "miscoded" records may be candidates for vacant land development, because the coded structures may be in such poor condition that they have what is known as "negative value" and thus are classified as vacant land because the land is worth more than the building.
      3. Sometimes buildings, such as the Rookery, receive a temporary classification of vacant land by the county, while it is undergoing rehabilitation and not generating any cash flow from rent.


  2. The REDI file comes from the county.

    a. The REDI file contains tax information.

    b. For the present CitySpace file, the data is for 1991 taxes billed in 1992 and sales transactions through the fall of 1992.

    c. CitySpace should have REDI data for a year later, (i.e. sales through early November 1993), by May of 1994.


  3. Cityland file
    1. The Cityland file is a file from the Department of General Services which contains city-owned property.


  4. Tax Delinquency file
    1. The tax delinquent file now being used is for 1991 taxes which were billed in 1992 and then put up for sale (offered) in January of 1993.
    2. The new list for 1992 taxes, billed in 1993 and put up for sale in January, 1994 probably will be available by the spring of 1994.


  5. County Exempt file
    1. This file contains all the city's tax exempt vacant land.
    2. This file has code for ownership, therefore it enables CitySpace to identify if parcels are owned by the Board of Education, the Department of General Services, the Chicago Park District, etc.


  6. County Scavenger Sale file
    1. The Scavenger Sale list identifies properties which have been tax delinquent for more than two years.


  7. CitySpace has also provided the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers with the following files.
    1. Chicago Park District files
      1. CPD files provide information on park address, facilities, park name, and community area.
      2. CitySpaces has CPD files and maps on our MapInfo system. This information is older than the USACE data, but is more complete and better integrated with the CitySpace system.
    2. Hazardous and Toxic Waste Sites
      1. This file was provided by DOE. No documentation was provided with this file.
    3. Chicago Public Schools file
      1. CitySpace provided this file to USACE. CitySpace hopes to get an updated document.
    4. MCIC Recreation Survey
    5. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers River Survey

Other major holders of semi-public land include non-profit groups such as community development organizations, churches and private schools. Several schools and community centers now use native gardens for educational purposes. Private developers with vacant land may be a source of some garden space such as open space within planned unit developments, temporarily vacant land and leasing of land for garden purposes. Private developers wishing to build housing or commercial buildings that are too expensive for local residents could provide economic opportunities on part of their required open space by including land for native seed garden businesses. All of these property types might be leased to provide income for their owner's as well as the local residents operating the seed business.


Several non-profit organizations exist in Chicago that provide garden planning and management assistance. The University of Illinois Cooperative Extension Service, Chicago Botanical Garden and The Resource Center have several excellent programs for horticultural training. Each offers planning manuals and technical assistance for garden design, soil preparation, propagation and more. CitySpace is creating a Neighborhood Open Space Planning Manual which is intended as an easy to use guide for community groups interested in open space policy and planning.


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