In the warmth of Saturday's springtime sun, artist Amanda Williams and her daughters looked over several brownfield lots in the Washington Park neighborhood that had been laid waste for years by the racist federal practice known as redlining but now were carpeted with tulips in bloom, painting the cityscape a soft and buoyant red.
Last October, as part of her “Redefining Redlining” project, and with the help of dozens of volunteers in collaboration with Emerald South Development and its Terra Firma initiative, Williams planted more than 100,000 red tulip bulbs in the brownfields.
She had divided the lots into 21 garden plots laid out in the footprints of 21 residential buildings that had once stood at the sites using the Sanborn Fire Insurance maps. These maps reveal the footprints of existing and demolished buildings in many cities in the United States.
In Washington Park, the dwellings had gone into disrepair decades ago and been torn down as a result of redlining, the practice of credit denial to residents of predominantly non-white neighborhoods.
At the time of the bulb planting, Williams said that she had developed the project “In part so that people can both visualize the magnitude of the impact of redlining and see that its impact is manageable."
As she wandered Saturday, April 15 among the tulip beds with her daughters, picking up bits of blown-in plastic bags and cups, Williams paused and pointed toward a clump of tulips. A young boy had dumped a basketful of bulbs at the spot she remembered.
Gesturing toward another area where a solitary yellow petalled tulip bloomed, Williams said that they had planted two red tulip varieties, "Pretty Woman and Istanbul." The few singular blooms were probably accidental in the mix of the bulbs.
Washington Park resident Dewayne Jones has been watching the tulips grow during his regular walks through the neighborhood with his dog Annabel. On Saturday, he paused to take a photo of Annabel and the tulips.
"I am overwhelmed by the short transformation," said Jones, who is a gardener. "How flowers can change the neighborhood so quickly. It can be a dirty lot, a filthy lot, and can be turned into something beautiful, so easily."
“Redefining Redlining” is celebrating the tulip bloom at the site on Saturday, April 29, from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.