ALBANY PARK — Albany Park residents are sick of bottles, cans and snack wrappers strewn across the sidewalk — and they're not going to take it anymore.
"We're not going to get more businesses to come into this neighborhood if we're ... 'trashtastic,'" said Shylo Bisnett, organizer of the new community group Albany Park Neighbors.
Formed in late 2012, APN is preparing to tackle some of the neighborhood's most persistent problems, including litter and the perception that "Albany Park is where you go to get falafel or get shot," Bisnett said.
Recognizing that image is everything, the group is planning an all-out assault on trash come spring, one that it hopes will gain buy-in from residents, businesses, local officials and the Albany Park Chamber of Commerce.
Initial emphasis is on Lawrence Avenue but could extend to Kedzie Avenue, according to Megan Backes, 30, a member of APN's litter and beautification committee. Their pitch: get more business owners to clean up in front of their shops and "empower neighbors to influence businesses."
In addition to lobbying for more garbage receptacles along major pedestrian and retail arteries, APN discussed a number of actions aimed at stemming the tide of trash at a meeting Monday night at New Life Community Church.
"We want to lead with a carrot approach," said Bisnett, which might include handing out certificates to local business owners inscribed with designations like "cleanest storefront."
A May clean-up could recruit local high school students "desperate for service hours," she added.
Rob Soltan, 33, who moved to Albany Park in 2008 and was "really disappointed by all the trash," had an idea of his own that also involved the neighborhood's youth: "Let's do art, let's not do vandalism."
Soltan proposed a program in which businesses or home owners would "sponsor" a trash can in front of their residence or shop, with youngsters pouring their energy and creativity into decorating the receptacles.
"I'm sold," responded Joe Ferguson, who's lived in Albany Park for four years and routinely picks up litter around his condo building.
The hope is that these short-term efforts, coupled with education outreach to individuals who might not be familiar with "Give a Hoot, Don't Pollute" or the "Crying Indian/Keep America Beautiful" campaigns, will result in what Backes called a "mindset change."
"We feel like, if we live here, we should make the most positive impact we can," said Bisnett, a freelance copywriter who was also instrumental in spearheading a drive for a new playground at Eugene Field Park.
For APN, that mission ranges from a nascent housing committee focused on preventing foreclosures to presenting a cohesive front to local officials. Ultimately, all of its initiatives, including the litter clean-up, aim to shift attention away from what Ferguson called "the crap about the gang shootings," and instead promote the diversity and vibrancy of the area
The goal is to encourage more Chicagoans to work, play and live in in Albany Park.
Summed up Bisnett: "We're helping our neighborhood put the best foot forward."
The next meeting of Albany Park Neighbors is being planned as a community mixer, tentatively scheduled for Feb. 24 at Golden Crust Pizza and Tap, 4620 N. Kedzie Ave. Though the group technically encompasses the area bounded by Pulaski Street and Kedzie, Foster and Montrose avenues, anyone who identifies as an Albany Park resident or is interested in the community is invited to attend.
Follow APN on Facebook for more information and updates.