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Highlights of Spontaneous Interventions at the Cultural Center

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If you haven't gotten a chance to check out the Chicago Cultural Center's new Spontaneous Interventions exhibit, we'd highly recommend it. The installation, which opened a few weeks back, profiles projects from around the country where determined groups of people have worked together to fix their cities' problems with innovative, and often unexpected, solutions – plus, it's free. Out of the 84 projects profiled, 15 are Chicago-based, with five more that focus on lesser Midwestern cities. But if you don't get down there before the exhibit ends its run in September, we've summarized a few of the featured initiatives making an impact on our own neighborhoods:

ACTIVATE! : After launching an international competition that challenged teams to reimagine a vacant site for less than $1,000 in 2010, Katherine Darnstadt of Latent Design and Architecture for Humanity saw so much promise in the event, they made it an annual thing. This year, competitors tackled four abandoned spaces: 62nd and Drexel in Woodlawn, Laflin and Blue Island in Pilsen, Jackson and Homan in East Garfield Park, and Wisconsin and Lincoln in Old Town. Winners include a bungee cord and fabric "urban jungle," sidewalks decorated with poetry, and using reclaimed materials for a wind canopy, to name a few. The winning projects are set to be constructed mid-summer.

Placemaking in Bronzeville: Last summer, architect Monica Chada and her students at the Illinois Institute of Technology furnished the vacant lots at the intersection of 43rd and Calumet in Bronzeville with portable tables and storage bins in an effort to liven up the neighborhood. The space also features a message board that encourages dialogue about the future of the neighborhood. According to the exhibit's write-up, the makeshift communal area is still in use.

Territory: Often teenagers get a bad rap for loitering, vandalizing, and other general troublemaking, but last year a group of teens in Albany Park worked with the Museum of Contemporary Phenomena to learn the fundamentals of designing safe spaces which eventually led to a large-scale transformation of a local parking lot into a park with benches, a climbing wall, and skate ramps. The program will be available again this summer.
·Spontaneous Interventions [official]
·Design Competition Looks to "Activate" Public Spaces [Curbed Chicago]
·Spontaneous Interventions Coverage [Curbed Chicago]

—Gwendolyn Purdom