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The Walk to School


I've lived all over the country and world, my background is in International Affairs, Political Science, and Economics, and I'm a Chicago boy born and bred.

As I've gotten older it's become more evident how interconnected all facets of life truly are.  Besides the fact that we live in a very "small world," we live in a society much like Newton's Law: "every action has an equal and opposite reaction."  While this law is primarily in terms of physics, it's also the case with day-to-day life in Chicago.  One wrong turn by a car, one poorly implemented law, one misrepresented neighborhood, or even one inadequately lit street, can be the difference of a livable (literally) city and an unlivable city.  A livable city is not one where children cannot walk to school without the fear of gang violence.  Giving kids a safe route to school won't necessarily stop Chicago's gang related violence of this past year, but it's a crucial start.


I understand that not every neighborhood can look like, or be as safe, as the Gold Coast.  Most neighborhoods don't have that much money, but many of the poorer neighborhoods that have been the home of the recent teen shootings, are more populous.  There are many people living in these neighborhoods on the South and West Sides, but they are so spread out that nobody is ever "out."  Jane Jacobs wrote a book in 1961 that holds relevance today, called The Death and Life of Great American Cities.  Her book discusses the notion of "eyes on the street," which implies that crime could be reduced if there are more observing eyes.  When the streets are empty, crime is more feasible.  Yes, we can put a policeman on every corner, but that's neither likely, nor a long term solution.  The long term solution is to make these neighborhoods denser and with more people, but at the same time with more grocery stores, doctor's offices, police stations, libraries, etc.

Besides making these neighborhoods denser, another option is to create an extended and subsidized public transportation system for students during the commute to and from school.  Chicago could create a bus system that not only goes down 63rd, for example, but down some of the smaller side streets so kids don't have to walk as far from the bus stop to home (or to school).  This is not because the teen shootings have been more or less frequent on the main streets, but because side street routes by busses will be closer to where families more often live.

If the public "school" bus option doesn't work, or simply isn't enough, making the routes to and from school more walkable is also essential.  When the main streets are littered with broken glass or have disheveled sidewalks, students will find an alternate and oftentimes more dangerous route.  These sidewalks are also not walkable if students have to dodge cars driving in and out of fast-food restaurant parking lots or strip-mall parking lots.  Little things add up and make students chose one route versus the other, which has proven to be fatal.  The Feds agree that "Safe Routes to School" are very important and have created a program to provide cities with funds to make these routes better.  (I am not sure if Chicago is currently receiving any of these funds, but if not, why not?)

While I am not saying anything profound in this post, this subject matter does not require profound thinking; it merely requires thinking.  We cannot keep putting "band-aids" on our gang problems; we need to perform "arthroscopic surgery."   Clearly these are just my ideas and aren't necessarily the only solutions, but someone in our government needs to implement solutions soon, or else concerned parents might stop sending their children to school altogether.  Livable cities require easy access to education, but currently Chicago is failing to give students a safe learning environment, which needs to change now.



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