‘Chicago Tonight’ in Your Neighborhood: North Park

The North Park Village Nature Center includes a 46-acre nature preserve and educational facility located in the middle of Chicago, offering hiking trails and educational programming. It's one of the largest nature areas on the North Side along the Chicago River.

There's four mini ecosystems that people can enjoy from woodland to wetland.

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Amaris Alanis-Ribeiro, the North Park Village Nature Center’s director, said the preserve is unique because of the wildlife people can find there. The center is currently raising awareness around the conservation of monarch butterflies.

“We’re doing a lot of work to restore a lot of the prairie and native plants and species,” Alanis-Ribeiro said. “Monarch butterflies this year were listed as endangered. Every year we host a festival called Monarch-palooza and this year we’re definitely going to continue to bring attention to the conservation of butterflies. We also want to uplift the indigenous and cultural connections with the monarch butterfly.”

Interactive map: More from our community reporting series

Alderman Samantha Nugent, whose ward includes North Park, pointed to the preservation and restoration efforts it took to transform the North Park Village campus, home to the nature center, into what it is today.

“What we’re standing in right now is 155 acres of protected space,” Nugent said. “We introduced an ordinance of the fall of 2020 that protects this land in perpetuity, which means that you and I can enjoy this land for forever. This is the site of a tuberculosis sanitorium and now it is a beautiful space that includes senior housing.”

North Park was originally a Swedish community and over the years it’s become more diverse, with a blend of different cultures and backgrounds.

Video: Watch our full interview with Samantha Nugent

The Hollywood-North Park Community Association is a resident-driven alliance that’s been running since 1951.

The association’s media manager, Andrew Johnson, said one of their concerns has been the rezoning proposal of a business corridor on the corner of Kimball and Foster.

Fazal Development Network is the property owner of the building where five businesses currently rent.

The property owner told WTTW News that his plan is to rebuild a mixed-use building with apartment units above the ground-level commercial space. He shared that he has owned the Subway, located on the property, for 20 years and his vision is to enhance the neighborhood.

However, the association raised concerns that the proposed apartment buildings would cause more traffic along Kimball and Foster, and that the current businesses would be forced to close.

“Ideally there’s a new development so more people can live in our neighborhood, there’s more foot traffic to support local businesses, but if that comes at the expense of local businesses that are already here, then that’s a tough trade-off,” Johnson said. “Hopefully there’s a way to meet both needs.”

Taqueria Las Flores is currently operating on this property.

Jasmine Flores, the owner of the restaurant, said she’s invested her savings into renovating her business and having to close will cause financial pressure to all the business owners despite the proposed timeline for re-development.

“My business is one of the few businesses that did not get financial help,” Flores said. “Either we weren’t eligible for the PPE or we weren’t able to get the money, so when I heard this I was like ‘Oh no, I have to start from zero again.’ It doesn’t matter if I start here or go somewhere else, it would have to be zero again.”

Video: Watch our full interview with Terry Mena

Meanwhile, located on the border of North Park and Albany Park, Asian Human Services has been focusing on helping immigrants and refugees receive the resources they need including job training, English classes, and health programming.

The organization said Chicago is a hub for refugees seeking asylum, and for the last 45 years, Asian Human Services has been assisting thousands of families get back on their feet.

“(The) Northwest side is slowly becoming the hub for immigrant and refugee families,” said Rebecca Curtis-Creighton of Asian Human Services. “The Uptown neighborhood historically was the entry point, and what you see as things gentrify, as things change, folks move further north and west, so the North Park area, West Ridge, Rogers Park, we pull families from all the neighboring areas to where we’re located.”

Asian Human Services also runs a charter school named Passages.

Ali Tarokh is the director of operations at the school and shared they serve a large population of student refugees.

Tarokh is a refugee from Iran and said he dedicated his life to helping others navigate through the challenges that come with escaping their home countries and rebuilding a new life.

“I want to send this message to other refugees: 'Hey, we came here by force. That’s fine, but we have this chance to build our life again,'” Tarokh said. “Every single refugee that is on the right path and track makes me happy.”

Similarly, Northeastern Illinois University has assisted in the mission of helping settle refugees in the area through scholarships. WTTW News reported on this program in February.

Vice President and Dean of Students at Northeastern Illinois University Dr. Terry Mena said it was a successful first semester.

“Our 15 Afghan students successfully completed the Spring 2022 semester with really good remarks and success rate for retention,” Mena said. “We’ve worked hard to provide wraparound services for these students who have had such traumatic experiences, who had to be airlifted out of Afghanistan. We worked hard to give them a support person who works with them, gives academic and personal support, along with a team of people.”

The community is also home to North Park University, which has been a pillar of the community since 1891.

President Mary Surridge said the university offers a variety of classes, and this year they expect all students to attend in person.

“Well some call us the best kept secret in Chicago because we have this beautiful campus, almost an urban oasis, right here on the North Side of Chicago,” Surridge said. “But we started out as a small Christian institution that was founded by Swedish immigrants. Founded in Minnesota and then moved to the urban center of Chicago in the early 1890’s.”

Surridge also said they're in the early planning stages of developing more residential housing for the campus.

Community Reporting Series

“Chicago Tonight” is expanding its community reporting. We’re hitting the streets to speak with your neighbors, local businesses, agencies and leaders about COVID-19, the economy, racial justice, education and more. See where we’ve been and what we’ve learned by using the map below. Or select a community using the drop-down menu. Points in red represent our series COVID-19 Across Chicago; blue marks our series “Chicago Tonight” in Your Neighborhood.

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