By Carol Flynn
Raccoons destroyed many of the early institutional files of the Beverly Area Planning Association (BAPA) when the critters worked their way into the attic of the house on Wood Street that BAPA called headquarters for many years.
This may seem like a negative point in BAPA’s history, but there is a positive spin to it. It is testimony to BAPA’s successful efforts to respond to environmental concerns throughout the 75 years of the organization’s existence. Thriving urban wildlife is a sign of a healthy ecosystem.
The natural scenic beauty of the Ridge led to the development of Beverly/Morgan Park as a unique residential neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side, with architecturally significant homes on large, beautifully landscaped lots. The leafy canopy produced by the enormous old oak trees was, and continues to be, the community’s crowning glory.
Early urban planning was influenced by the City Beautiful Movement of the Progressive Era, which occurred in the late 1800s-early 1900s. This movement, led by men like Daniel Burnham and Frederick Law Olmsted, was introduced with the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, and spread throughout the country.
“Beautification” called for making visual improvements in urban areas by ending overcrowding and substandard building practices, and creating more green space with trees and monuments.
Washington Heights, which included Beverly, and Morgan Park readily bought into this movement before 1900, with tree preservation and landscaping initiatives, and litter clean-up campaigns involving local school children.
In 1926, the Ridge Civic Council, composed of 27 local civic organizations that banded together to work on common “betterment goals,” started a major effort to preserve and care for the local trees.
When the community started BAPA as a grass-roots organization in 1947, the goal was to preserve Beverly/Morgan Park as an ideal residential community. Protecting the environment became a necessary part of the mission.
BAPA’s earliest environmental endeavors might be lost to time thanks to the raccoons, but the last 50 years have seen non-stop activism on BAPA’s part.
In 1970-71, BAPA sponsored a series of programs with guest speakers entitled “Your Environment – Endure It or Improve It.” The purpose of the series was “to explore means by which the community can preserve its rare heritage of natural and manmade beauty in homes, churches, trees, and landscaping.”
The sessions were cutting-edge, and included a speaker from the Environmental Protection Agency, which had just been started in the fall of 1970 by President Richard Nixon.
Another speaker from the Great Lakes Chapter of the Sierra Club, and professors from DePaul University and the University of Chicago, spoke on pollution. Other speakers covered landscape architecture, local Prairie School architecture, and the history of the Ridge.
The first Earth Day was held in April 1970. In 1972, BAPA joined with other local groups, banks, and churches to sponsor a community clean-up drive with prizes for the youth groups that collected the most litter. BAPA also sponsored a tree-planting campaign, where people could buy at special prices flowering plum, flowering crab, honey locust, sycamore, ash, and maple trees.
Fast forward to today, BAPA continues its commitment through a number of “beautification outreach” efforts.
The annual Chicago Clean and Green event takes place this year on Earth Day, April 22, and BAPA – as it does every year — is now recruiting individuals and groups to help clear away winter debris at neighborhood parks, schools, and public areas to prepare them for spring and summer use.
BAPA works with Openlands, a nonprofit nature conservation organization, to secure spring and fall grants to replace trees that are lost to disease or destruction. So far, BAPA has helped to replace 500 trees on neighborhood parkways. People interested in learning more about the spring grant should contact BAPA Executive Director Mary Jo Viero at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Save the Monarchs” is part of the Illinois Monarch Project, and BAPA offers a local initiative to increase the number of waystations with beneficial plants like milkweed for migrating monarch butterflies, the Illinois state insect. Find information and applications at bapa.org.
“Weeding Wednesdays” start in June, with BAPA volunteers visiting public spaces and parks to help with weeding, removing litter, and other small landscaping chores.
Information on these programs may be obtained by contacting BAPA at 773-233-3100.
In 1992, a BAPA representative stated in a newspaper article that “Good environmentalism is good economics.”
It is common sense for a community like Beverly/Morgan Park to put effort into maintaining the natural environment that helped establish the value of the area in the first place. One caveat, however, might be to not put the local raccoons in charge of the files.