The vacant lot at 4008 W. Madison St., the site of a roller rink development in the West Garfield Park neighborhood on April 29, 2021. (Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago)

A city plan to bring an outdoor roller rink and community plaza to a vacant West Side lot this summer has the lofty goal of reclaiming the area from violent crime.

The proposed Community Plaza on Madison is part of the mayor’s Neighborhood Activation pilot program to invest in neighborhoods experiencing high levels of violence as a way of improving safety. The roller rink, plaza and recreational facility would be built on a vacant lot at Madison Street and Pulaski Road in the main commercial corridor of West Garfield Park.

But some worry the plaza, slated to open in July at 4008 W. Madison St., would attract young people to a high-crime area, putting children who come to skate in harm’s way.

The idea for the roller rink grew from a series of design meetings and town halls hosted by the Garfield Park Wellness Collaborative. Residents discussed ways to improve economic development and the urban environment and reduce crime. The group partnered with the Mayor’s Office, Ald. Jason Ervin (28th) and city agencies to bring the idea to life.

The Community Plaza on Madison aims to honor the history of the corridor as the booming downtown of Garfield Park. The initiative is an effort to “reclaim that space, taking it not only to its former glory but beyond,” said TJ Crawford, director of the Garfield Park Wellness Collaborative.

“It’s going to be a place that the community will co-program with the Park District to fill the need for safe spaces for families and children,” Crawford said.

In addition to the roller rink, the plaza will host activities and programs for young people, like chess, pickleball, dance, fitness classes and volleyball, organizers said.

The plaza will also host events like farmers markets, movie nights, art workshops and open mics to “give young people the opportunity to express themselves,” Ervin said.

But the stretch of Madison Street around the Pulaski Road intersection experiences a lot of crime, including open-air drug markets that police have been unable to address, said Siri Hibbler, president of the Garfield Park Chamber of Commerce.

The roller rink shouldn’t go in an area troubled with violence, Hibbler said, especially since it is an outdoor facility. It should instead be built on a quieter spot along the business district, she said.

“It’s a very serious hot spot,” Hibbler said. ‘”How is putting our kids right in the middle of the shootings, right in the middle of the drug dealing, going to improve public safety?”

Hibbler launched a petition to stop the creation of the roller rink.

Children already frequent the area since it is the main shopping district for the neighborhood, Ervin said. There is a youth sports facility less than a block north of the site of the proposed roller rink.

Every element of the plaza will be designed with public safety in mind, Crawford said. Organizations rooted in anti-violence, like the MAAFA Redemption Project and the Institute for Nonviolence Chicago, will help design a community safety plan to ensure the plaza can be a safe place for people in the area, he said.

The project also tackles the historical disinvestment that is at the root of the violence on the West Side, Crawford said.

“We know the type of investment that is needed. We know the presence that is needed. We know the community involvement and leadership that is required for us to help the community evolve and turn around and recover,” Crawford said.

The roller rink and plaza would activate the area, bring more foot traffic and increase the presence of city workers and police, Ervin said. The increased engagement from residents, businesses, neighborhood groups and the city will help push crime out of the corridor, the alderman said.

“We’re going to have more people there … as well as the Park District programming, as well as security and Police Department,” Ervin said. “This is the type of activity we want in that area.”

The added presence will also help businesses and boost the local economy, Ervin said.

“You go to other business districts, they have places for people to actually sit down outside. We don’t have that,” Ervin said. “This has been one of those things that people have asked for, and it’s in a location where there’s a lot of foot traffic. It will also be a help for businesses because it’s bringing families there who might want to stop and buy a T-shirt.”

Pascal Sabino is a Report for America corps member covering Austin, North Lawndale and Garfield Park for Block Club Chicago.