Last Friday, a crowd that grew to 70 people congregated around the lot across from Monster Pawn near the intersection of Main Street and Sheridan. The site was formerly known as Renaissance Park Garden, known for providing food to the community and a platform for artists.
Just the day prior, a City of Peoria contractor was tasked with razing the site, consequently destroying all the plants and vegetation growing and removing all art installations.
“The city and conscientious proprietors will not permit gardens that are unattended and strewn with garbage, weeds, litter, and discarded needles,” Peoria council member Chuck Grayeb said in a Facebook post.
Ross Black, a member of the city’s Community Development Department, told the Peoria Journal Star he had informed the city that the weeds had grown over three feet high, trash hadn’t been removed in quite some time and there was no produce in the garden at the time of demolition.
Adam Gasper, a spokesman for the Renaissance Park Community Association (RPCA), disputed all of Black’s claims, adding that no one from the city nor anyone associated with the property reached out to notify the organization about the demolition.
“Many of us were shocked to tears seeing a beloved place wiped away without warning,” a statement from the RPCA said in a Facebook post.
Joanna Holly, a junior English education major, was one of several Bradley students in attendance at the event.
“I think Peoria’s decision to bulldoze the community garden without notifying the organization that has been running it is disgusting and an active attack on the residents who relied on food from the garden in addition to those who are housing insecure or without housing entirely,” Holly said.
At the sit-in, other community members mentioned planting produce, herbs and other plants in the past few weeks and doing small maintenance on the garden.
“It’s hard to see something we put a lot of love and care into get taken down,” Isabella Rinald, a community member and the organizer of the sit-in, said in a speech. “I knew there had to be a call to action, so we organized this.”
Later in her speech, she cited a gentrification and anti-homeless sentiment as the root of the demolition, stating demolishing the grounds “disproportionately affects marginalized individuals” who use the garden as a source for food and community.
The group was sitting in the empty lot when Peoria police officers arrived at approximately 8 p.m. Several officers met together in the gas station parking lot across from the lot, but they left the scene shortly after.
The rest of the night was filled with music, individuals sharing the importance of the park and a candle-light vigil, all while wearing masks.
According to the PJ Star, the city’s community development department indicated the lot would be replaced with a newer, modern gas station. It remains empty for the time being. The RPCA is currently looking for a new location for a similar community center.