Throughout the July 28 community meeting held at the Douglass Park fieldhouse, 1401 S. Sacramento Dr., there was one theme the recently appointed 24th Ward Ald. Monique Scott kept returning to: She can’t do anything alone and residents have to be the ones to take charge of North Lawndale’s destiny.
Around 70 to 80 residents attended the first 24th Ward meeting since Mayor Lori Lightfoot appointed Scott to replace her brother, Ald. Michael Scott. While the new alderperson had some opening remarks, she spent much of the roughly 90-minute meeting answering questions from constituents. Much of the conversation revolved around vacant lots, quality of life issues, gentrification and the effects Riot Fest and other large-scale events have on Douglass Park and the surrounding neighborhood.
Scott said she intends to follow her brother’s lead and hold monthly community meetings on the last Thursday of the month, but she didn’t elaborate on where they would be held. Before the pandemic, Michael Scott used to rotate meetings between three locations in different parts of the ward. She mentioned that the September meeting would focus on ward transportation projects.
In her opening remarks, Scott touted her community bone fides, mentioning several times that she lived on the same block for most of her life. She talked up several major projects that got off the ground during her brother’s tenure, but she also mentioned that she is working to bring Peoria Meats, one of the few meatpacking holdouts in the gentrified Fulton Market District, at 1300 W. Lake St., to North Lawndale.
When asked what she would do in terms of public safety, Scott said that, while she was willing to do her part, it ultimately comes down to what the community allows.
“We lost respect, because we lost the family and we lost being neighbors,” she said. “We don’t do that anymore, [because] we’re afraid. We can’t be afraid of the people we’re raising. What does it say about us?”
Scott had a similar response to questions about the state of local retail. She gave an example of how she called Walgreens higher-ups over low-quality inventory and shelving at the North Lawndale location, 3401 W. Roosevelt Rd., but she encouraged other residents who share her concerns to send complaints, as well.
“We accept so many wrong things, because we don’t expect that the right things are for us,” she said.
Scott repeatedly encouraged residents to buy city-owned vacant lots up for sale in November. She said that lot sales have been paused while the city puts together a website that will list what kind of environmental hazards each lot has and what the underlying zoning is, so that potential buyers would have a better idea what they’re getting into.
“There are 300 vacant lots in North Lawndale, 900 of that is city-owned, so each of you [in this room] can own a vacant lot,” she said. “I beg my community — this is your time.”
Scott said that owning lots would increase home ownership, which would help protect against gentrification.
“You get complaints about another race moving into this community. We don’t own this community. If we did, those 900 lots wouldn’t be vacant,” she said. “It takes ownership. They are not taking over. You’re letting them.”
In the last few months of his tenure as alderman, Michael Scott actively supported initiatives to build working-class housing on vacant lots in order to grow homeownership in the community and reverse decades of population decline. But the push received some criticism, since an average North Lawndale resident wouldn’t be able to afford those homes.
Resident Zoe Miller said she wanted to see Scott do something to help residents buy homes.
“My goal is to own a home,” she said. “I want to see people – and I know this going to make some feel some kind of way – that look like me [living around me].”
Toward the end of the meeting, Anton Abkins, co-owner of Café Calidá., 3455 W. North Ave., asked Scott whether she would support the community push to get Riot Fest and other large-scale events out of Douglass Park.
“The only fight [I’m going to have] is not to get rid of it, but for the money to go back to Douglass Park,” she said.
After some back and forth, Scott agreed to meet with Abkins and some other activists.
Scott readily admitted that there were several questions she didn’t know the answer to, saying that she was still learning.
“I’m what – 45 days on the job?” she said. “I’m still learning.”
Michael Scott, who stayed by the wall for most of the meeting, spoke briefly to offer support for his sister.
“I think it’s really impressive to have so many people here,” he said. “I ask you to continue your commitment to this young lady, because I think she’s a smart, intelligent person. If I don’t say it, she’ll put me in a headlock, because she’s my big sister. So please, continue to come out and support her.”
After the meeting, resident Loretta Kern said that she liked Michael Scott’s performance as an alderman and she’s confident that Monique Scott will finish what he started.
“I think like, with enough time, she’s going to be able to accomplish a lot,” she said.
Abkins said he was disappointed with Scott’s reaction to his question.
“I think she could’ve’ been more receptive to the concerns of the residents, but she said she was willing to talk to us, so we’re going to hold her to that,” he said.
For more information on the 24th Ward office, visit http://aldermanscott.com/