ALBANY PARK — Ald. Rey Colon (35th) inherited a healthy chunk of Albany Park in last year's ward remap and his recently acquired constituents wasted no time requesting assistance from their new representative.
"We need help," Jessica Bouboulis told Colon Monday night at an inaugural meet-and-greet with Albany Park Neighbors.
Gang activity at the intersection of Ainslie and Lawndale avenues has her and her neighbors "terrified," she said.
With summer approaching, she said, "it's going to get bad."
Lights are being shot out to create a cover of darkness and calls for repair are being shuttled among the area's aldermen, said Bouboulis. Because the neighborhood includes three wards — the 35th, 33rd and 39th wards — residents feel as if they are in service limbo with their pre- and post-remap aldermen.
"The slight bit of unity we had has now been divvied up," Bouboulis said.
"You should have more people in your corner, not less," responded Colon.
"We'll take your service requests. We're not going to send anyone away. Whether you're on [Ald. Richard] Mell's side of the street or my side of the street, I'm interested in improving the neighborhood," Colon said.
Economic development, particularly on Lawrence Avenue, was another issue raised by residents, who gathered at New Life Community Church, 3542 W. Sunnyside Ave.
"We have more than our share of pawn shops and wholesalers," said Shylo Bisnett, founder of Albany Park Neighbors. "That takes up a whole lot of retail storefront space."
Colon referred to his experience in revitalizing the Logan Square neighborhood, part of the old 35th ward, as model for Albany Park.
"We started just planning with residents, businesses and local community organizations. You try to find an identity, create a sense of place. Eventually businesses started to open. Now, it's on fire," he said.
Lawrence, which he acknowledged as "kind of stagnant," is ripe to gain similar momentum, he said.
"Albany Park has good bones. There's a lot of good infrastructure here," the alderman said. "We just have to make it more presentable."
A proposed Special Service Area, which collects taxes from specific property owners to fund communal services such as trash removal, is one potential tool. Another is the Small Businesses Improvement Fund, which provides business owners with incentives to spruce up their buildings.
Colon's first step, he said, is to establish relationships with area businesses and create a development-friendly environment.
"It sounds very basic, but not all aldermen are easy to deal with," he said.
Having witnessed the renaissance of Logan Square, Colon expressed confidence the same magic could be worked in Albany Park.
"Some people joke, 'Your ward, everybody gave you everything they didn't like,'" he said.
"My job is to fix things. I left my camp site over there better than I found it."