It’s 10 a.m. on a recent Saturday morning and instead of watching cartoons, the children set out in search of empty bottles and chip wrappers.
Picking up trash strewn across the lots and yards of their Austin neighborhood has become routine for these six children and residents Terry and Lee Redmond. They’re on a quest to make their community more beautiful.
“With the kids, we try to instill a sense of pride within the community,” Lee Redmond said.
The Redmonds are just two of many West Side residents tired of seeing streets and vacant lots used as dumping grounds. So is a west suburban church, which this summer will be cleaning up the neighborhood in the hope of making it more inviting.
Trash in the Austin community is major issue, compounded by the lack of city services, said Serethea Reid, president of the Central Austin Neighborhood Association.
“There are parts of the city where the city has made a conscious decision to provide service to make sure there isn’t trash, but we don’t get that here,” Reid said. “When you’re walking down State Street or Michigan Avenue, there is zero tolerance for trash, and we want that here, too.”
Litter strewn about the neighborhood, Reid said, can affect people’s perception of the area.
“How people see the neighborhood is how they treat the neighborhood,” she said, referring to both residents and visitors.
“If you see trash all over the neighborhood, it could mean a lack of pride in the neighborhood; it could mean lack of city services to help maintain the neighborhood; it doesn’t mean anything good.”
To help change the perception of the neighborhood, CANA regularly picks up trash, plants flower and has launched an anti-litter beautification campaign, Reid said.
A few weekends ago, 22 residents planted plants at nine intersections in the neighborhood as part of CANA’S ongoing campaign to beautify Austin, corner by corner.
The New Life Community Church in Oak Park hopes to do its part to beautify Austin. Starting June. 7, a group of about 12 men will clean between Jackson and Madison and Central and Lotus every Saturday until August, said Antonio Daniels, who leads the men’s group at the church.
Though the church’s physical location is in Oak Park, Daniels said many members as well as the pastor live in Austin, so they want to reach both communities. By cleaning the streets, he said, they hope to reduce drug trafficking.
Daniels said drug dealers are more prone to sell their products in an environment filled with trash – and they contribute to it. When being chased by police, dealers often throw their drugs in an empty cigarette box on the ground, making it hard for police to find, he said.
“One of the ways we thought about decreasing the (drug) traffic is to be physically present, going through the community, having conversations with these men and removing some of that debris that makes it easy for them to hide their drugs,” Daniels said.
He said residents shouldn’t wait on the city to change their community but take action themselves.
“You can’t wait on the city to do it,” Daniels said “I’m of the age to think that we can complain about it, or do something about it.”