The parking lot on the north side of Oak Park Apartments 618 South Austin building is special.
“How can a parking lot be special?”, you ask.
Simply by having a large lot where you can easily park your car right next to your apartment building can qualify as something rare, and some may say special, here in Oak Park. But the lot at 618 is more then just a place to conveniently leave your vehicle without fear of a parking ticket, any time – day or night.
This lot has become a shared garden.
The transformation began three years ago when a Village of Oak Park fence on the north side of OPA’s 618 property was blown down in a storm. The VOP decided not to replace the fence, a definite measure of security that the neighborhood valued. This opened the lot up to any and all.
With the fence gone building neighbor, Karen Morava, was able to see the little empty plots of Village owned dirt. This prompted Karen, who had been “dividing up plants in her own yard”, to begin planting her split perennials there. Her husband Peter joined in by adding “prairie flower seeds and this began the little garden that could.”, stated Oak Park Apartments employee, Diana Carpenter
Seeing Karen planting in these plots, Diana approached her and they “started talking about the possibilities for a joint gardening project. Karen’s vision was to turn the area into a butterfly corridor. It would look more attractive for tenants, be prettier for residents walking through on their way to the el, assist the bee and butterfly population and turn a pretty dreadful, forgotten corner of the village into a beautiful garden.”
Diana turned to OPA’s contracted landscaper, Dennis Marani of Marani’s Landscaping for additional help. Rock hard soil was turned and tilled, additional split plantings from other OPA buildings where added and stepping stones were strategically placed for easy passage for tenants, neighbors and all who cut through the lot to get to and from their destinations. Mr. Marani enjoyed the beautification project so much he even calls it “our garden”, according to Diana.
“Diana has been instrumental in making this project a reality” stated company co-owner, Bob Planek. “She is someone who connects with our tenants as well as neighbors. She helps OPA properties really be a part of the Oak Park, Forest Park and Chicago communities.”
Diana went on to comment about the future of the garden, “to me the funniest thing about this whole collaboration is we all just plant what we have where we feel like planting. No big plan. Karen has some milkweed growing now. We all work on it when we have time. It is getting to the end of the growing season and we have put in new plants that will be ready in Spring. Just before winter Karen and I will work together to clean up for winter and we will do the same in the Spring.”
So yes, this “little garden” and the community of people that made it come to life is really what makes this parking lot “special”.