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At the very least, can the city clean up its vacant lots

A lot that once was a promising oasis is now a filthy dumping site.

At 75th and Coles, a vacant city lot that some residents tried to turn into a community garden has become a site littered with garbage. | Mary Mitchell/Sun-Times
At 75th and Coles, a vacant city lot that some residents tried to turn into a community garden has become a site littered with garbage.
Mary Mitchell/Sun-Times

It’s sad to say, but I stopped walking in my neighborhood.

I routinely rush the short distance to my parking lot, climb into my car, very much aware that it is not a good idea to linger behind the wheel catching up on emails.

But Wednesday morning, the weather was too spectacular to miss. So after plucking the weeds from among the fading flowers (I’ve been away for a while), I took off for the post office to mail a package.

In the summer, Chicago has this amazing vibe that makes you want to get out and do something—bike, walk, run, hang, strut—anything except sit in the house.

After leaving Chicago for Maywood in the early ’80s, my goal was always to find my way back to the lakefront.

Growing up in the public housing on the South Side, I practically lived on the lakefront.

I moved into South Shore in 2012, thinking it would be my last home. But too often, I feel I live in a neighborhood that the city has forgotten.

For instance, I passed by 75th Street and Coles Avenue and was shocked to see what has become of a vacant city lot that some residents tried to turn into a community garden.

A former South Shore resident/activist, Mary Steenson, did her best to transform the lot into a beautiful and peaceful spot where neighbors could gather.

But from what I recall, she couldn’t even get the city to commit to letting the group use a fire hydrant to water the garden.

Now instead of fluffy hydrangeas, yellow dahlias, perky petunias, and bountiful hostas, we get garbage, garbage and more garbage.

So whose fault is it that this city lot has become an eyesore?

Obviously, the people throwing their garbage over the fence are to blame, as are the folks who keep stealing the city’s garbage cans from street corners.

Obviously, cops don’t have time to chase after litterbugs and fly dumpers. Still, someone’s got to pick up the trash.

Ald. Gregory Mitchell (7th) regularly organizes volunteers to sweep up broken glass and garbage and cut down weeds and overgrown bushes and trees along East 75th Street.

But he’s frustrated with Streets and Sanitation’s grid system that he says is not operational when getting this type of stuff done.

“I’m not getting the resources, and the mayor is not listening. I am always arguing with this administration,” Mitchell told me.

The alderman (no relation) pointed out that while his ward has about 500 vacant lots, there are wards with four and five times that amount.

“They will try to do so many in my ward and so many in all the other wards, and that is the wrong approach. I told them I only have 500 vacant lots, give me a [Streets and Sanitation crew] every two weeks. But that is not what they do. When you do several different wards, then you got the rain problem, equipment failure, and them getting pulled to do other stuff,” he said.

This littered lot really gets to the heart of the contentious debate around aldermanic privilege when the snow doesn’t get removed. When the rats are running rampant. When garbage is piling up in vacant lots, residents are going to call their alderman.

I called a spokesman for the city to find out why the gated lot on 75th Street was strewn with filth and didn’t hear back.

But the spokesman called the alderman’s office to assure him a crew from Streets and Sanitation would be there at 7:00 a.m. Thursday morning, Mitchell told me.

Mitchell said he purchased his own equipment to help clean up the ward.

I know that feeling. I’ve often wanted to grab a garbage bag and go up and down the street picking up trash people throw out of their car windows.

When you walk around your neighborhood, it’s hard to ignore what’s before your eyes.