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Inspired by Jens Jensen a new  garden being installed right now in Chicago's Little Village - we're creating a film about its effects on the neighborhood.






Little Village in Chicago is known as "the Mexico of the West" by many of its residents. It suffers from a green deficit - they would need to add 100 acres of parkland to come to a national average.


READ THE GRIST PIECE : In Chicago Parks Are On The Upswing


Now, more than ever, urban residents are in need of public spaces for mental and physical health. 


It's now a matter of Eco-Justice - and putting nature where it's needed can go a long way toward rebuilding neighborhoods. 


Children especially deserve nearby places for play and wonder; children’s optimal developmental growth and future stewardship hinge on intimate, meaningful, and consistent connections with nature, like JARADINCITO.


Jardincito is not a city-run park. It is in the vanguard of park design - a  community-created space, designed, built, used and cared for by a group of community institutions and neighbors like you. 


Ultimately, the garden will provide young children and their families with a place to play, learn, work, and eat together for a healthier, safer, more beautiful Little Village.


The land where the Jardincito is located has been secured for the long-term by NeighborSpace in partnership with the Trust for Public Land (TPL), a national, nonprofit, land conservation organization that conserves land for people to enjoy.


The project is being guided by a Steering Committee made up of neighbors and community institutions including the Spry Elementary School and High School, the Boys and Girls Clubs of Chicago, Alivio Healthcare, Our Lady of Tepayac Head Start, and Comunidad en Accion.


The garden is being created by NeighborSpace, Positive Space, Viva Lundin Productions, with mentoring from the American Society of Landscape Architects, IL Chapter




  • Even in small intimate spaces

  • Yesterday’s Inspiration: Jensen, an immigrant arriving in the states in the late 1800’s, was nostalgic for the sea surroundings of his youth in Denmark, and found a familiar sense of vastness in the “sea of the prairie.” He designed landscapes that inspired a sense of natural vastness, and reverence.

  • Today’s Innovation: In today’s inner city neighborhoods, everyday vastness can be found and nurtured in many unexpected places, including the sense of wonder and “lost time” created by intimate extended periods of reflection in nature.


Meandering Pathways

  • Yesterday’s Inspiration: Jensen built many of his designs around the idea of a meandering river, in which limited views around one bend to the next created a pleasurable anticipation of not knowing “what was around the corner.”

  • Today’s Innovation: Immersive intimate organic pathways in the nature play garden play off this notion of serene anticipation and joyful exploration, scaled appropriately for small wanderers. Dense plantings and shrubs create full body plant immersion opportunities.


Hidden Nooks with Views to Open Spaces

  • Yesterday’s Inspiration: Jensen designed places in the shade and understory for a garden visitor to nestle in, while simultaneously providing views out to sunny open spaces and fields.

  • Today’s Innovation: One of the biggest risks to today’s young child is the lack of perceived privacy. Outdoor “child-owned” spaces are harder to come by, but important for children to feel mastery of their world. Creating miniature under-stories where children can nestle in and feel in charge of their own experiences is an update of hidden nooks with views to open spaces.


 Naturalized Landscapes with Rocks, Native Plants, and Water Trickles

  • Yesterday’s Inspiration: Jensen designed spaces to appear as though they were plucked from lush midwestern landscapes, incorporating natural lateral lines, such as Hawthorne branches and limestone slabs to both mimic layered river rocks and the vastness of the prairie. He was also the first to use native plantings in his landscapes.

  • Today’s Innovation: Naturalized landscapes allow the urban child a “glimpse”of a landscape they may have not yet seen. Slabs of limestone, water imitating a natural spring,  sticks, rocks, pebbles, and stumps- these are all loose parts that provide the child visitor multiple affordances for creative play and problem solving, while also replacing unfamiliar anxiety about getting dirty  with adult supported joy in the exploration of natural materials and spaces.


Gathering Spaces

  • Yesterday’s Inspiration: Jensen’s council rings, circular gathering spaces formed with stoned seating areas were inspired by ancient tribal traditions and American democracy, and were a focal point in many Jensen designs, a place where communal gatherings could take place- gatherings around a fire, a storyteller, or simply each other.

  • Today’s Innovation: In today’s society, the act of communities physically gathering together in shared public spaces is less and less common. Spaces that invite this kind of egalitarian gathering and shared expression is the essence of community-managed gardens and spaces. The community play garden is in a sense the new council ring. Community gardens afford the opportunity for democratic engagement, story rings, campfires,and looking each other in the eye.

Natural Stages

  • Yesterday’s Inspiration: Jensen designed gardens with openings that served as natural sun and star-lit stage areas for performers to dance and perform- these designed areas were sometimes called “the players’ green,” a naturalized space for outdoor theatrical expression and pageantry to occur. Outdoor natural space and theatrical and creative expression integrated important progressive ideas about human agency and joy.

  • Today’s Innovation: Children use performance and creativity to investigate the way they feel about the world. Play gardens provide natural “play props” and stages for this important developmental investigation, while also affording children the child-led right to make up their own stories, and navigate the group problem-solving that theatrical performance and play scenarios require.


Growing Future Stewards of the Land

  • Yesterday’s Inspiration: Jensen led the initial battle to save the dunes of Indiana, which is now a national lakeshore. He stood up to the most powerful men in America, perhaps the world: Andrew Carnegie and JP Morgan.  Jensen saw the destruction of the dunes and found out that they were buying all the land. He also found out that the dunes was incredibly biologically diverse, the field of Ecology as we know it in the US was born at the dunes by Henry Chandler Cowles. Jensen took his case to the President, working with Stephen Mather, the first director of the National Park Service, but WWI was declared and the bill was tabled. Jensen then created a Dunes Pageant that drew an estimated 40 - 70K to the largest outdoor event in American history to that date. It created a conservation fervor that helped launch the modern environmental movement.


  • Today’s Innovation:  If one man, who had six mouths to feed, could risk his career and reputation to take on heady battles with potential clients and powerful corrupt forces, one person who cares about the environment they live in, can feel empowered to do the same. By introducing children to the beauty of native plants and nature in their own neighborhood, and to a powerful figure who stood up for the working poor and for nature, then we are building a generation of empowered and emboldened kids who will care about their world by caring about their neighborhood



Yesterdays' Inspiration meets Today's Innovation

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