GARFIELD PARK – Annette Britton is waging a turf war in her East Garfield Park neighborhood. The 56-year-old entrepreneur has been behind several revitalization plans for a community in Chicago known more for violence than anything.
As Garfield Park Community Council’s public safety coordinator, Britton and local residents have focused on creating a safer environment on Kedzie Avenue and West Madison Street.
In the past year, almost 500 violent crimes were reported in East Garfield Park, according to the city of Chicago, along with about 1,700 drug arrests. The neighborhood was listed No. 3 in violent crimes in February and No. 2 in quality-of-life crimes, such as prostitution, narcotics distribution and criminal damage, according to the Chicago Tribune.
While the neighborhood still retains one of the higher crime rates in Chicago, Mike Tomas, president of GPCC, said the growing number of non-violent arrests is a sign of revitalized interest in the community.
“People are reporting these societal crimes,” like prostitution or public urination, he said. “People are coming back out to reclaim these spots.”
The revitalization campaign began almost 18 months ago through outdoor concerts in a vacant lot near the Green Line Kedzie Avenue Station. Last year, Kickstarter, a fundraiser created to host a fresh food market, raised more than $7,000 and established an attractive place for the community.
“Unless you have programming, you’ve just beautified the lots for drug dealers,” Britton said, adding that after the food market and concerts are over, the area becomes trashy again because there’s not enough healthy neighborhood activity there.
Tomas said the Kedzie and Madison area is a commercial corridor that attracts a lot of people and can contribute to the crime rate by as much as 30 percent.
Even so, Britton is on a crusade to replace criminal activity with safe, amenable neighborhood activities.
“My job is not to stop crime,” Britton said. “My calculation is if I create positive programming, the negative stuff goes away — even if it is for two hours.”