On a recent summer night at the corner of Concorde and Leclaire avenues, a cluster of people gathered around.
You could smell grilled hot dogs and hear the lively chatter of neighbors catching up.
The July 8 “smoke out,” one of several neighborhood cookouts being held this summer on the West Side, was hosted by the Chicago Police Department.
It was a different scene in the area less than a year ago when there was drug-dealing and gang activity, according to residents and the police. Since then, criminal activity in the area has decreased, and residents feel more comfortable being out and about in their neighborhood.
Less than a year ago, the Chicago Police Department placed a camera on a light pole at the intersection, Horace Ware, an Austin resident and block club organizer, recalled.
When Ware arrived in the neighborhood last year, he said he noticed the corner was plagued with gang activity. But after the arrival of 25th District Commander Kevin Navarro — and the installation of the security camera — crime began to move elsewhere, Ware said.
There’s still work to be done, according to Ware and other residents, who say the community needs to come together to improve the neighborhood.
Chicago police officers, Ald. Emma Mitts and community members gathered June 19 at the corner of Concorde and Leclaire to celebrate the change that’s happened.
Ware cooked about 150 hot dogs on his grill, and residents passed out chips and other refreshments to attendees.
The smoke outs bring neighbors together so they can network with one another, according to Navarro — and they strengthen relationships with the police.
“We looking forward to having more of these throughout the year,” Navarro said. “Become involved with the community and become more involved with us. Together, we can make things better.
Ware welcomes more smoke outs and community gatherings. “When I moved over here and found out that a lot of people close their doors and ignore [problems], [I realized] that’s not the answer,” he said. “It takes the community. Everybody needs to come outside.” During last month’s smoke out, Ware was able to reach out to his neighbors to start a block club. He hopes the club can host block parties, improve the relationships among neighbors and improve the environment for children.
Delanda Hester, who’s lived in Austin for 11 years, attended her first smoke this summer.
Hester has noticed the police doing a better job in the community, and she’d like to be part of a block club.
“[I want more community events] to let not only the adults but the kids know that we’re trying to better our neighborhood,” Hester said.
Ald. Mitts called the event “wonderful” and encouraged residents to continue to connect with each other. “Knowledge is powerful, and once everybody starts talking about what’s going on, it only can build and help the community more,” she said