Oct 1, 201302:00 PMPoint of View

The METROPOLIS Blog

The Secret Ingredients of Urban Excellence

The Secret Ingredients of Urban Excellence

Award Presentation. Simeon Bruner presents the RBA Gold Medal award certificate to Inspiration Corporation Executive Director and CEO Shannon Stewart.

Courtesy Steven E. Gross & Associates/James Kittendorf

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In 1989, Lisa Nigro, a former police officer, filled her nephew’s red wagon with coffee and sandwiches and pulled it around Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood. Her purpose? Offer good food, served with dignity and respect, to the people she encountered on her beat. Her efforts were the genesis of Inspiration Corporation, an organization dedicated to helping those affected by homelessness and poverty, by increasing their self-sufficiency and improving their lives. It is this organization that opened the 2013 RBA Gold Medalist, Inspiration Kitchens – Garfield Park.

Chicago, long recognized for its architectural legacy, is also a leader in great urban placemaking. It is now home to three, back-to-back, RBA-winning projects —2009 Silver Medalist Millennium Park, 2011 Silver Medalist Gary Comer Youth Center and College Prep, and this year’s Gold Medalist. Last month, Simeon Bruner and I traveled there for the Gold Medal award presentation, which included a check for $50,000 that will help ensure Inspiration Kitchens – Garfield Park’s future as a social enterprise and training program. We partnered with the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation at Garfield Park Conservatory to host the ceremony, which honored the project and its sponsor Inspiration Corporation, along with project partners Wheeler Kearns Architects, IFF, Gabriel and Leonard Goodman, and Crown Family Philanthropies.

Panel Discussion with Moderator. Susan Szenasy moderates the panel discussion with Anne-Marie Lubenau, Eunita Rushing, Susana Vasquez, Margaret Haywood, Larry Kearns and Benet Haller. 

Courtesy Steven E. Gross & Associates/James Kittendorf

A panel discussion moderated by Metropolis editor-in-dhief and 2013 RBA Selection Committee member, Susan S. Szenasy, followed the ceremony;  included were individuals involved in the project, local neighborhood development, and planning: Margaret Haywood Director of Workforce Development, Inspiration Corporation; Eunita Rushing, president of Garfield Park Conservatory and Garfield Park Conservatory Alliance; Susana Vasquez, executive director of LISC Chicago; Larry Kearns from Wheeler Kearns Architects, project architects; Benet Haller, architect and planner for the City of Chicago; and myself.

Panel Discussion. Margaret Haywood from Inspiration Corporation discusses the project’s development as Susana Vasquez, Larry Kearns and Benet Haller look on.

Courtesy Steven E. Gross & Associates/James Kittendorf

The panelists shared how they became involved in the initiative, illuminating Inspiration Corporation’s thoughtful development process, which engaged the community each step of the way and forged relationships that were critical to its success. As a result, area residents and organizations welcomed the project, simplifying the review process as it proceeded. The community discussions also informed the restaurant’s design, which is modest and respectful of its context and opens the dining area and kitchen up to the street with large windows. The sense of ownership extended to people living nearby, who kept an eye on the property, guarding against potential looters and vandals during construction.

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Examining contemporary life through design, architecture, interior design, product design, graphic design, crafts, planning, and preservation.

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