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How to make a pop-up park

Noisivelvet’s Joe Baldwin transforms Logan Square blacktop into green space.

 (Photograph: Christy Prahl)
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Photograph: Christy Prahl

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Photograph: Christy Prahl

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Photograph: Christy Prahl

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Photograph:Christy Prahl

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The list of transient urban delights—pop-up shops, restaurants and galleries—just got a little longer. Earlier this month, at an event dubbed Art Through Gardening, Joe Baldwin helmed the creation of a pop-up park. The founder of the arts advocate org Noisivelvet (noisivelvet.com)—in conjunction with the Altgeld Sawyer Corner Farm—turned nearly an entire Logan Square street block into a grassy public play area for four hours. Last week, Baldwin guided us through the process of transforming blacktop into green space.

1. Keep it street legal
To lawfully take over a Chicago street, you need a Block Party Permit, which can be downloaded from your alderman’s office website. To gauge public sentiment about the proposed event, you must also get a minimum of 65 percent of the block to sign a petition.

2. Score some grass
Baldwin was able to persuade Central Sod Farms (5816 W Ogden Ave, Cicero, 708-780-3009) to donate the necessary turf. The night before the event, the company dropped off several pallets full of turf squares—around 6,000 square feet. “We used maybe half of that,” Baldwin says.

3. Get a helping hand
Shortly after 8am, about a dozen volunteers began tiling the road with sod. While the Block Party Permit allowed Baldwin and company to ask neighbors to move their cars off the street, the city doesn’t enforce the policy. Participants simply landscaped around parked vehicles, which Baldwin says, “added to the surreal feeling of a park on the street.”

4. Go for the green
By law, block parties have to be accessible to everyone, so be sure to get the community involved. At Art Through Gardening, Chicago Rarities Orchard Project offered tastes of a flower-blossom soda, renewable-energy org SolAir discussed solar power, Urban Worm Girl spoke about composting, and Midwest Bonsai Association and Fleur flower shop gave demonstrations. Artist Aaron Straus assembled a sculpture made of organic materials that will decay into the Corner Farm garden throughout the summer.

5. Leave unsoiled
The city doesn’t provide cleanup, so it’s up to you. As it turns out, sod isn’t all that difficult to get rid of. “We started letting people take the sod, around two o’clock,” Baldwin says. “People were grabbing it and putting it into the backseats of their cars. I had people who drove in from Oak Park, people from the neighborhood, a couple landscapers.” Even Nikki Huber, Miss Earth Illinois, rolled up a few squares. As Matt Bergstrom, the man behind Build Your Own Chicago’s city landmark paper models, prepared to bike home with some sod in tow, Baldwin recalls the artist had a funny realization. “Matt said, ‘You never notice the curve, the curve in the street. It’s really accented when it’s covered in grass.’ ”

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