Sweet Water Foundation’s flagship site, known as The Commons, challenges the standard reductive formula of gentrification, which seeks to gain short-term return on investment without regard to the longer-term sociological and ecological implications to the urban ecology, including people. The resulting aesthetics of gentrification reflect the process of erasure, amnesia and forced-forgetting of the culture that once defined the community. Through Regenerative Neighborhood Development, The Commons, instead, offers an inclusive, art-inspired and agriculture-fed approach to neighborhood development, creating an aesthetic of inclusion and remembering married to the concepts of repurposing, re-imagining, and re-storying.
Spaces at The Commons
The Thought Barn, was the first ground-up architectural building developed by Sweet Water Foundation and now serves a visual and performing arts, reflection, and community gathering space in the heart of The Commons. Since its raising, the Thought Barn has hosted 1000’s of people for performances, community events, workshops, meetings, and tours. Last winter, SWF built a temporary, polycarbonate enclosure, known as the Lightbox Theater + Gallery, to enable year-round programming.
PERRY AVE COMMUNITY FARM
The Perry Avenue Community Farm occupies a full city block and boasts more than 210 rows of vegetables. Sweet Water Foundation began farming the site in May 2014 after it sat dormant for more than a year. The abandoned site is now a vibrant, 2 acre farm employing local residents, building community, and feeding more than 200 residents weekly.
The Think-Do House is formerly foreclosed home the stood vacant from its construction in 2007 until Sweet Water Foundation gained access in 2014. With sweat equity, the home was transformed into a community hub that hosts educational collaborations, community meetings, workshops, retreats, and cooking demos. The Think-Do House has been featured in Chicago Ideas Week, Chicago Artists Month and the Chicago Architecture Biennial.
To facilitate the growth of the carpentry work of the Apprenticeship & Outreach Program, Sweet Water Foundation built a custom, multipurpose greenhouse in Spring 2017 to serve as a classroom, workshop and makerspace.
The [Re]Construction House, located at 5731 S. Lafayette Avenue in the heart of the Perry Ave Commons, is a project focused on the transformation of an abandoned home. The house was occupied by an elder whose relatives lived out of state. Upon her passing, the home sat vacant until one of the relatives visited the area and witnessed the work of Sweet Water Foundation firsthand. The home was donated to Sweet Water Foundation in late 2016 in hopes they would bring it back to life one day. Rehab of the [Re]Construction House was completed in September 2019.
The Smart Pod is a unique learn + grow space designed by the Sweet Water Foundation team from a discarded commercial shipping container that once transported grape juice concentrate in Argentina. Modeled after a shipping container greenhouse in Belgium, the Smart Pod consists of an educational and inspirational gallery space on the lower level and greenhouse with traditional and hydroponic grow beds on top.
The R-N-D Park is Sweet Water Foundation’s latest activation of so-called blighted space at The Commons. The park, which spans 5 vacant parcels at The Commons, provides safe space for local residents and seeks to inspire new forms of housing development. The R-N-D Park’s name reflects both SWF’s practice of Regenerative Neighborhood Development and research-and-development efforts through youth and community-inspired design.
The Community Gardens consists of 24 “you pick” garden beds full of wide variety of seasonal vegetables and herbs. The gardens are open and accessible to local residents all year long and also serve as learning gardens via partnerships with health and wellness educators and schools.
History of the Perry Ave Community Farm
The Perry Ave Community Farm occupies a full city block, located on the 5700 block between South Perry Avenue and Lafayette Street, at the nexus of the Englewood and Washington Park communities on Chicago’s South Side. This site was once home to the Moseley School, one of the oldest public schools in Chicago history.
Named after an early Chicago philanthropist, the Flavel Moseley School opened in 1856 as an elementary school at the corner of Michigan Avenue and 24th Street. In 1930, the Moseley School was converted to a social adjustment school for “truants, delinquents and incorrigibles.” Later known as the Moseley Correctional School, the school was a school moved to 5700 S. Lafayette Avenue in 1958 and was, ultimately, closed in the 1990’s. The building was briefly repurposed as a homeless shelter and, then, sat vacant until it was demolished.
In 2011, the City of Chicago and LISC partnered to transition the site from an empty city block into an urban farm. The City first leased the farm to a nonprofit with deep urban farming expeience, but who lacked community engagement and investment. As a result, neighbors complained about the farming practices and the farm was vacated. The City of Chicago invited Sweet Water Foundation to revitalize the farm in May 2014.