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Albany Park Neighbors Group Turns Gang Corner Into Block Party

By Patty Wetli | June 26, 2013 12:51pm
 Albany Park neighbors turn a troubled corner into a festive block party.
June Albany Park Neighbors Night
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ALBANY PARK — The street signs at the corner of Ainslie and Lawndale avenues have been bent so many times to mark gang territory, neighbors say, the city is growing weary of replacing them.

"Either they jump up and pull on them or they stand on each other's shoulders," said Jessica Bouboulis, noting that a security camera perched directly atop the signpost has done little to deter vandalism.

But the scene at the intersection was far different on Tuesday night, with Albany Park Neighbors hosting its first Neighbors Night Out at the convergence of the two streets.

Despite the threat of storms, dozens of residents gathered to create a festive atmosphere just yards away from a house that was busted in 2012 as a major drug distribution site, according to neighbors.

Kids colored the sidewalk with chalk and played in the parkway chasing bubbles while the adults mingled with neighbors old and new. Shylo Bisnett, founder of Albany Park Neighbors, tempted passers-by with the call of "Free paletas," Latin American ice pops made with fresh fruit.

"It makes the neighborhood feel cared for," said Samantha Lynn, who attended the event with her mother, Judy Kunz.

The pair moved to Albany Park seven years ago from Rogers Park after a murder occurred in their alley.

"Albany Park seemed safer," said Kunz. "My daughter's out on her own a lot and there's never a problem."

The perception that Albany Park is dangerous is just that — perception, Kunz said.

"I think that's old, maybe 10 years ago," she said. "It's come up a lot. Maybe if you're out at two or three in the morning something bad will happen."

The larger issue for some residents is that the neighborhood was carved up into multiple wards following last year's remap.

Ald. Margaret Laurino (39th) used to serve the entire area surrounding Lawndale and Ainslie.

Now, as Bouboulis explained, the northwest corner of the intersection is served by Laurino, the northeast by Ald. Richard Mell (33rd) and the south side by Ald. Rey Colon (35th).

"It makes it interesting reporting stuff," said Bouboulis. "You hear, 'Tell your alderman.' Well, who's your alderman today?"

She recently called Laurino's office to check up on neighbors displaced after a fire only to be told "it's not their ward anymore."

Kunz picked up her annual parking pass from Laurino's office this year but was told next year she would need to obtain it through Colon.

"We'll see how that goes," she said.

Ald. Colon's presence at the Neighbors Night was appreciated by Bisnett for more than his donation of the paleta treats.

"Colon is new, so we're getting to know him," she said.

For his part, Colon was impressed with the turnout at the event.

Having attended a number of positive loitering outings, Colon said this was the first that didn't involve a police roll call.

"It makes it less intimidating. People don't want to walk toward a uniform," he said. "This one is really just the neighborhood strengthening itself. More things like this should occur."