Chicagoans like Natalie Perkins spent last summer building community cohesion and promoting safety and peace on Chicago's South Side. As education coordinator for South Merrill Community Garden, she helped run an entire summer of Saturday activities for neighborhood kids called Planting and Playing Summer Garden Arts. The effort was one of 120 projects funded by the Chicago Fund for Safe and Peaceful Communities, which offers rapid-response grant opportunities to support community-based actions and activities that make neighborhoods safer.
Curbed Chicago's Patrick Sisson reports how community gardens and block associations are helping stem Chicago's gun violence.
Community gardens, and other neighborhood-level organizations like block clubs and arts groups, aren't typically viewed as direct solutions to violence. Decades of "broken window" policing persuaded many cities to adopt top-down crime-prevention plans focused on punishing small offenses (recent research, however, indicates that this strategy had the opposite effect).
Instead, a growing body of evidence suggests that community groups have actually played an outsized, and under-recognized, role in the significant decline in urban crime across the United States and that programs that benefit local, bottom-up urban organizing may be the solution.
According to a recent study by New York University sociologist Patrick Sharkey, these groups were "fundamental" to the massive nationwide drops in crime over the last 25 years (the national homicide rate, for example, shrunk by 50 percent between 1990 and 2015). His work even determined a formula for their impact: Every 10 additional organizations in a city with more than 100,000 residents creates a 6 percent drop in violent crime, and a 9 percent drop in homicides.
In line with the growing consensus, the [Fund for Safe and Peaceful Communities'] work is swift and strategic; it's community action at the street level. Over the last two years, a coalition of 30 charities and foundations pledged more than $1 million to underwrite small, community-oriented grants between $1,000 and $10,000, part of a $30 million investment in strategies to reduce gun violence.
The grants will support temporary programming and events to increase neighborhood unity and safety in under-resourced Chicago neighborhoods, like Englewood, Auburn Gresham, and Austin, located on the city's majority-black South and West sides. The funds also empower local actors already working in their communities, doing away with long vetting processes required by some nonprofits and one-size-fits-all solutions.