Although COVID-19 prevented suburban REALTORS® from launching some community improvement projects in the early months of the pandemic, perseverance helped them set up the idea for future use.

The Mainstreet Organization of REALTORS® (MORe) Young Professionals Network (YPN) worked with the city of Wheaton, the Downtown Wheaton Association and the local chapter of a popular nonprofit to create a special event for the downtown area. Organizers got permission to convert several downtown parking spaces into a temporary mini park and celebrate International Park(ing) Day on Sept. 18.

“This is an idea that can definitely work,” said REALTOR® and Mainstreet YPN Chair Kirsten Keller, who noted these REALTORS® originally hoped to create similar events in five suburban communities. “Then COVID put a lot of things on hold. But as the weather got warmer and people were able to go outside safely, we decided to pick one place to try it.”

Keller talked to REALTOR® and Wheaton City Councilman John Rutledge and Wheaton City Manager Michael Dzugan about the idea, and she received positive feedback. YPN applied for the permit and used grant money to purchase portable furniture and artificial turf.

The Downtown Wheaton Association agreed to let the project use parking spaces in front of its office and invited a local food truck to attract community members. With public health officials warning that quarantines, remote work and remote school could increase stress and exacerbate mental health issues, Keller convinced the DuPage chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) to supply educational materials about mental health issues.

Parklet projects can bring beauty and a change of pace to busy urban areas, can attract potential shoppers and visitors, and help REALTORS® demonstrate their interest in the communities they live and work in, says Keller.

MORe YPN Liaison Ramona Schimka noted that 23 members of the YPN provided support on the project, by promoting it as well as encouraging and providing advice to volunteers.

“One of the cooler moments was when a group used the parklet for an impromptu business meeting,” said Schimka, who estimated that about 25 people visited during the mid-September afternoon. “And after school got out, a group of kids came to the parklet and hung out together.”

With more time to promote mini parks or parklets, Keller says that YPN members will be able to involve more businesses, create more buzz in the community and make it clear that the parklet is available for all. She was happy that NAMI was able to get its message out to more people through the event.

As a result of the Wheaton event, the YPN has portable furniture and artificial turf that can be used for parklet projects in other communities in 2021.