With nearly 80,000 residents, Chicago's Little Village neighborhood has the smallest amount of green space per resident and the largest proportion of residents under the age of 18 of any Chicago community.
Neighborhood schools are an essential part of the fabric of this dense, young community. They function as centers for local leadership development and community building, and are used as hubs for information, programs and services.
They are some of the most frequently used spaces in the community, since nearly 75 percent of them are community schools that keep their doors open well after school hours. Most students and families walk to and from school buildings.
But walking isn’t always safe due to factors like inadequate and aging infrastructure, substantial car traffic and the threat of street violence. School leaders, with the support of community partners, use a wide range of strategies to respond to these challenges.
Many schools host the Community Watch Program, a parent patrol or a student patrol.
Leaders work with aldermen's offices, the Chicago Department of Transportation and Chicago Public Schools to make infrastructure upgrades, such as alley apron resurfacing, installation of signage, street direction changes and lighting improvements.
New school gardens, sports fields and playgrounds improve the functionality, safety and attractiveness of school outdoor space. School-based activities, including sports programs, clean-ups and bike rodeos, further enhance the area around schools and encourage walking and biking.
Enlace Chicago is one of the community-based organizations that is dedicated to making a positive difference in the lives of the residents of the Little Village Community. They do this by fostering a physically safe and healthy environment in which to live, and by championing opportunities for educational advancement and economic development.
Enlace is excited to be a community partner in the Safe Routes for Healthy Kids Campaign, which is focused on improving Illinois Department of Transportation’s Safe Routes to School grant program that funds biking and walking projects across the state.
To support the Safe Routes for Healthy Kids Campaign, Enlace is working to better understand and document challenges and potential solutions related to getting to and from school in Little Village. (Enlace is partnering with StoryCorps to record oral histories of local leaders who support safe routes to school efforts).
Enlace is also partnering with a DePaul University Geographic Information Systems (GIS) class in order to map data related to school enrollment, attendance boundaries, crashes, traffic counts and crime.
Finally, Enlace is surveying parents, students and staff at local schools to understand how they get to and from the building and what influences their transportation choices.
All of this information will guide the work that Enlace and other partners are currently doing.
It will also reinforce advocacy efforts focused on developing local leadership around the issue, attracting media attention and educating elected officials. With improvements to the Illinois Safe Routes to School Program, we anticipate increased funding for the kinds of programming and infrastructure that can benefit communities like Little Village.
Learn more about Active Trans' Safe Routes for Healthy Kids Campaign to increase funding for IDOT’s Safe Routes to School program and make administrative changes to make it easier for communities to apply.
And you can sign onto the campaign here! Use the hashtag #SafeRoutesIL to share your story on social media.
This guest blog post is written by Simone Alexander of Enlace in Chicago.
Photo courtesy of Liz Patek via Alliance for Biking & Walking.