Bridging Neighborhood Gaps Elgin Looking at Bigger City for Advice on Urban Issues
Billings, Mark, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)
Travel to many cities across the United States and one can find urban challenges similar to issues plaguing Elgin's older neighborhoods, including overcrowding, absentee landlords and cut- through traffic.
At the 2000 Neighborhoods USA Conference held in Phoenix last week, thousands of community leaders, including five from Elgin, saw everyday issues confronting their neighborhoods are shared by many across the country.
During a three-hour tour of the Cordova, Granada and Sevilla neighborhoods 15 minutes northwest of downtown Phoenix, conference participants representing major cities across the country saw residents uniting against neighborhood blight, drug activity, speeding cars, graffiti and a declining urban park. Although minutes from gated communities and upscale homes, the neighborhoods border a mixed commercial area and busy commuter streets.
Before a city ordinance was passed placing certain restrictions on adult bookstores, several moved in the evening before the ordinance went into effect, said Devar Brown, president of the Granada Neighborhood Association.
"Twenty-five years ago when we moved here, this community was in the country surrounded by fields," Brown said. His neighborhood is comprised of 2,000 homes and several large apartment complexes built in the mid-1950s. Home values range from about $60,000 to $105,000.
"Today, this is an urban neighborhood, with an approximately 50 to 60 percent Hispanic population," Brown said.
The Phoenix metro area is now home to 2.7 million people.
"One of our biggest problems is people who have too many cars or inoperable cars. (The vehicles) will sit there and not move or people will park them on the lawn or up against the house," he added.
The Granada Neighborhood Association reduced the speed limit by 10 mph and installed speed bumps on the entire stretch of one residential street to thwart heavy commuter cut-through traffic.
Residents also secured more than $200,000 from a variety of sources, including Community Development Block Grant funds, to improve a 15-acre community park. Upgrades feature new lighting, landscaping and amenities.
"It got to the point where people didn't want to use the park because of the undesirables hanging out there at night," said Brown. "Now you see parents playing with their children there. It's a source of pride."
Similarly, community groups throughout Elgin have used CDBG funds and neighborhood improvement grants to upgrade aging parks. A resident committee worked with the city's Parks and Recreation department earlier this year to produce a $350,000 plan to develop the 155-year-old Gifford Park into a Victorian public square. The plan is on hold awaiting $150,000 from the city.
Some groups, such as the NorthEast Neighborhood Association, are also waiting on city funding to develop a Victorian garden at the northwest corner of Douglas Avenue and Kimball Street. The group was denied CDBG funding earlier this year in lieu of other city initiatives.
Among the more innovate strategies residents are using to fight crime is by patrolling neighborhood streets using their private cars.
Sam McAllen, one of eight neighborhood housing specialists employed by the city of Phoenix to facilitate community revitalization, said the program promotes a partnership between citizens and the beat patrol police officers assigned to neighborhoods. …