This is Little Village, a proud and vibrant neigh-
borhood where businesses aren’t limited to the main
commercial drag. But Renas’ job as she drove
around the southwest side neighborhood was to ig-
nore these signs of life. She was brownfield hunting.
The Little Village Environmental Justice Organi-
zation (LVEJO) recently announced a joint initiative
with Delta Institute, where Renas is a project man-
ager, to map and revitalize the brownfields in the
community. Volunteers will go out into the neighbor-
hood collecting data on abandoned properties; this
data will ultimately be put into a GIS map to create
a visual action plan for revitalizing the area.
Brownfields are easy to define but hard to spot.
A property is considered to be a brownfield if it is
vacant and any redevelopment would be compli-
cated by the presence of contamination, whether
real or perceived. That last part is important; the
mere perception of hazardous materials is enough
to keep many developers from even considering a
An abandoned gas station would make for a dif-
ficult renovation due to the underground fuel tanks
and other contamination issues. But what about an
empty lot surrounded by active, industrial uses? To
most, it’s safe to assume that the lot once held an
By Matt Baker
The car bounced down the road, avoiding deep potholes as well as the snow and
ice piled high on the curbs. Margaret Renas turned off of bustling Kedzie onto a
narrow road. Beautiful, turn-of-the-century houses lined the residential street,
but also the occasional dress store, taqueria or auto repair shop.
Eric Allix Rogers