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Emmanuel Pratt, Urban Designer | 2019 MacArthur Fellow

Emmanuel Pratt, Urban Designer | 2019 MacArthur Fellow


One of the challenges of the South Side
and West Side of Chicago is there has been a depletion of resources and access to
capital. So a lot of times we don’t start with the dollars and the capital, we start
with what assets are there, what humans are there, what spaces are
available. My name is Emmanuel Pratt. I’m co-founder and executive director of Sweet Water Foundation. Our tagline is, “There Grows the Neighborhood.” What we do is regenerative neighborhood development. We have a two-acre farm site, the Perry Ave. Community Farm, which is an interesting, unique place because it sits on what
used to be the Moseley School for Social Reform, one of the worst schools in
Chicago’s history. There’s no fence, there’s no gates, there’s no nothing, it’s just open to the public, and it’s a great way to connect people. We start with the process of education and building. Farming is a great way to just dive in
and just start to beautify a neighborhood. Gardening with the
sunflowers, and the rainbow chard, and the collards, and kale, tomatoes, and peppers,
and all of that. So we look at neighborhoods and people the same way. “This is gonna be poly-carbonate all the way…” Sweet Water Foundation has an apprenticeship program
that we call an urban ecology apprenticeship program. So the average
high school student will get exposure to carpentry, gardening, farming, agriculture,
architecture. We’re currently completing a renovation, a full gut job of a house,
from 1891, turning it into a humans in residency space, and we call it the
Reconstruction House. It was on its way to becoming a vacant lot, but now it’s
been restored to have a gallery on the ground floor and live-work spaces
upstairs. The next step is we’re doing ground-up housing, and we’re starting
what we call the RND houses, Regenerative Neighborhood Development Housing, that
starts to encompass all of the lessons learned from the Perry Ave. Commons. For the most part it’s an holistic experience of what it takes in order to really
build a neighborhood back up from ground up. Almost like urban acupuncture;
identify a stress point, do some kind of activation with some of the youth in the
neighborhood, people that are unemployed, start feeding folks by doing the garden,
and also in the process you’re doing training in carpentry and agriculture,
and next thing you know it has seeds of its own regeneration, and energy continues to grow.

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