Grounds for Peace: 50 Lots

In July of 2019, the Chicago Mayor’s Office, in conjunction with the Department of Family and Support Services (DFSS) and the Department of Planning and Development (DPD), launched a pilot program called Grounds for Peace. The program’s goal was to beautify 50 vacant City-owned lots in North Lawndale, Woodlawn, and Englewood and was a partnership between the City of Chicago, Urban Growers Collective, and Heartland Alliance.

Inspired by successful programs in other cities with high rates of gun violence and large concentrations of vacant property, Grounds for Peace empowered community members to reclaim spaces that have contributed to violence. The Mayor’s Office designed this program as part of a comprehensive approach to reducing community violence resulting from environmental and design factors that influence safety. The Mayor’s Office partnered with DPD and the University of Chicago to identify the highest impact city-owned vacant lots using crime data.

Grounds for Peace engaged men who were at acute risk of gun violence. An effective way to provide a skill-oriented job training experience for this at-risk population is through a pre-existing transitional job program, such as Heartland’s Rapid Employment and Development Initiative (READI).

Urban Growers Collective was contracted to deepen READI’s job training by providing hands-on landscaping experience, supervision, and expertise on urban land interventions. Engaging a partner with expertise in this area -such as UGC – was fundamental to the success of the program. 

Grounds for Peace represented a new approach for the City to participate in community-centered vacant land development. The program paved the way for future restorative justice interventions within neighborhoods most affected by disinvestment and crime.

Benefits of Community Engagement and Employment Opportunities for At-Risk Adults

Improving the appearance of vacant lots through “greening,” such as landscaping or planting an urban garden or farm, has been shown to reduce violent crime and have a positive impact on residents’ perceptions of safety. Recently, research has also shown that “greening” has a wide range of other benefits, including community mental health and wellness.

Creating positive spaces in communities affected by gun violence not only improves community wellbeing, but the actual process of creating these spaces presents a significant opportunity to re-engage individuals who face employment barriers or are trying to extricate themselves from violence. Grounds for Peace provided these at-risk individuals an opportunity to take ownership of making their community safer while also developing concrete skills that will help them in both work and life.


Contact us at or (773) 376-8882.