Designer Emmanuel Pratt discusses growing and sustaining Redlined neighborhoods

Devastated neighborhoods of Chicago have suffered from degeneration and despair since the Great Migration. Emmanuel Pratt, co-founder and executive director of Sweet Water Foundation, presented his plan for revitalizing Chicago’s forgotten neighborhoods during the final presentation of Graham Foundation’s public programs series exhibition titled Unraveling Modern Living. A 2019 MacArthur Fellow, Emmanuel Pratt’s work explores architecture, urbanization, race, identity, gentrification, art, social praxis, and the transformative processes of community economic development through intersections of food security and sustainable design innovation.

Pratt says that to move forward and begin to rebuild, we must understand the history of redlining and how it has created wealth for some and impoverished others. “Redlining is very much steeped into how the city of Chicago has evolved. It is an active process of separating and segregating,” says Pratt. The FHA Underwriting Manual of 1936 and The 1949 Sanborn Map both show evidence of redlining. Housing discrimination goes as far back as the Great Migration. That discrimination led to the destruction and emptiness in neighborhoods that are prevalent to this day.

Sweet Water Foundation, whose slogan is “There GROWS the neighborhood,” has developed a collaborative environment within the Englewood community to transform empty spaces through built projects and installations.   “It is time for a significant shift in the way we address chronic issues such as physical deterioration, poverty, unemployment, health, education, and the environment,” says Pratt. Disadvantaged communities are continually changing, so it is necessary to find ways to reinvent the market while protecting the interests of current residents.

Sweet Water Foundation created a regenerative neighborhood development strategy that intersects art, education, and urban agriculture to transform vacant spaces into productive land. This strategy creates affordable housing, locally grown food, and employment in the community.

The collaborative efforts of the participants enabled Sweet Water Foundation to start rebuilding other spaces, including the Think-Do House. This house was a previously foreclosed home transformed into a community hub that now hosts meetings, workshops, retreats, and even cooking demonstrations. “It becomes this space of people meeting, sharing, learning, remembering and experiencing,” says Pratt. People have a chance to discover where they fit in and create opportunities in this social enterprise.

Sweet Water Foundation’s plans include re-defining the Opportunity Zone, exploring new funding for development, creating a community land trust that protects ownership, using excess empty lots to build affordable housing, and unveiling the “Seeding the Future” pilot program for schools.

For more information on Sweet Water Foundation, visit




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