Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Shooting doesn’t define area, residents say

Two weeks after a man was shot on the 1100 block of Florence Avenue, residents still insist they live in a safe neighborhood.

They don’t deny the shooting happened. They don’t deny reports of drug dealing and gambling happening at “that house” near the crime scene.

Instead, they deny such problems are a reflection of their community.

“It’s a classic old Evanston business district,” said Ellen Galland, who runs the architectural studio a few yards down the street.

Immigrant-owned shops once lined the block, formerly known as “Little Poland.”

Today, Florence Avenue and the surrounding blocks are home to a growing arts community. Craftsmen build furniture in their homes, an eclectic print shop opened on Florence last October and a trendy two-story loft is set to open this fall.

So it came as a surprise to the community when a Chicago resident was shot multiple times in front of an office building at 1124 Florence Ave., Feb. 19 at 7:45 p.m.

Over the years, community involvement has slackened, a trend residents are re-evaluating in the wake of the incident.

Neighborhood watch

Mary Wisniewski, a resident of the 1600 block of Crane Street, has lived in the same house for 23 years. She raised two children there and said neighbors were like family, looking out for one another’s children.

“It’s the kind of neighborhood where everybody knows everybody and everybody’s children,” she said.

But over the years, heavily involved neighborhood-watch groups, such as St. John’s Neighbors, have virtually disappeared.

Nina D’Agostino has lived in the neighborhood for 22 years and is a St. John’s member. When she first moved into the neighborhood, her block was filled with children who walked to school, rode bikes to friends’ houses and played games in the street.

The decline in community involvement is partially due to families growing up. Without small children around, the parents have less reason to be actively involved.

“When you have younger children, you’re maybe more crazed,” she said. “You have the parents talking about ‘I’m tired of shoveling snow. I’m tired of mowing my lawn.’ They’re looking to move on.”

So is she.

“My knees are gone and my three-story is killing me.”

One bad house

“To me it’s just that one house,” said Vanessa Shaf, an employee at the newly opened print shop. “Within the first month of working here I refused to work nights.”

Shaf is not alone. At a Feb. 21 community meeting, many residents complained about gambling, excessive drinking and drug deals in the alley and garage behind the residence. According to numerous attendees, much of the crime associated with the neighborhood can be linked to an address near last month’s shooting.

Neighbors said the residents are primarily upstanding people, but they need to take more responsibility for their grown sons and friends.

In response, one of these parents, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said as far as she knew, her son and his friends were only “hanging out” in her garage.

“They might drink a little beer. They might play some cards,” she said. “But if we can’t use our own garage, what can we do?”

Police have had trouble making arrests on these reported drug deals, despite numerous complaint calls from residents.

But residents aren’t filing any complaints.

“When you have so many people that are this close, people are hesitant to come forward,” D’Agostino said.

According to Wisniewski, other residents are just plain scared to step in.

“I think they’re afraid (there will be) some kind of retribution,” she said. “I used to be the same way. I’d tell my husband to ‘shut up, shut up.’ Eventually I said enough.”

Rebuilding community ties

Still, residents have hope that the community will move on and learn from the shooting.

“If you exclude (the incidents around the house), it has a very nice mix of people working here and people living here,” Galland said.

Sgt. Dennis Prieto said at meeting that he hopes recent events will help residents see the hole left by groups like St. John’s neighbors.

“This is an opportunity to step up and organize,” he said.

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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881
Shooting doesn’t define area, residents say