Public transit and amenities like theaters, parks, libraries and grocery stores make neighborhoods more livable and appealing. But do they actually make them safer?
“When you don’t have enough amenities or activities, people are not present, and that can lead to crime,” says architect Eleanor Esser Gorski, president and CEO of the Chicago Architecture Center. “That’s what we’re seeing in some areas downtown, which have suffered since the pandemic. Public spaces need programming plus infrastructure to make families and residents feel welcome, and that will naturally help to revitalize those areas and drive down crime.”
One of the most important amenities in any community is access to healthy food. Several grocery stores on Chicago’s South Side have closed in the past several months, including the Whole Foods in Englewood, the Walmart in Chatham and an Aldi in Gresham.
Ameya Pawar, a former alderperson and now senior advisor to the nonprofit Economic Security Project, believes government must step in and consider owning and operating grocery stores in these neighborhoods.
“I can’t walk outside of my house in Lincoln Square without hitting a bank, grocery store or day care,” says Pawar. “That’s because there was a systematic flow of capital to the North Side. The same communities that don’t have these things, have higher rates of crime and violence. What do you think happens in communities forced to participate in capitalism where there is no capital? You have to systematically channel capital into these places.”
Tametrius Files, public safety task force manager for the nonprofit Teamwork Englewood, says residents take care of their neighborhoods when it has things they are proud of.
“That’s why art, culture, and beautification of public spaces has been one of our biggest successes,” Files said. “This summer, we took on the corner of 63rd and Justine, one of the high crime corridors, and built a pop-up plaza where residents can enjoy art, activities, basketball, etc. Lack of those resources breeds crime. If you want less crime, give people something to enjoy, and be proud of. They will take care of it.”