NORTH LAWNDALE — Caroling is a holiday tradition that has largely fallen out of favor. But for the neighbors singing along 16th Street in North Lawndale before the holidays, the Christmas carols were as much about reviving one of the neighborhood’s main thoroughfares as they were about spreading holiday cheer.
Carolers handed out hot cocoa with marshmallows and cookies as they sang Christmas songs in English, Spanish and French on Dec. 23. Most of the residents were members of the BLOOMS District Collective, a neighborhood group dedicated to renewing the 16th Street corridor to its former glory by planting and maintaining flowers, trees and other plants on the stretch.
The group is targeting 10 blocks along 16th Street between Douglas Park and Pulaski Road where there are 96 vacant lots. BLOOMS members aim to partner with residents to beautify the corridor and landscape the vacant lots with hopes that by encouraging neighbors to reclaim public space in the area, North Lawndale will grow healthier, safer and ripe for inclusive economic development.
BLOOMS projects include the Lemon Balm permaculture garden dedicated to female hormonal health at 16th Street and South Ridgeway Avenue and the shipping container mini-museum at the Spaulding Memorial Garden at 16th Street and Spaulding Avenue.
Members said Christmas caroling was the perfect way to help bring beauty back to the area while also soliciting feedback from neighbors living along the corridor on how the group can help improve 16th Street.
Annamaria Leon was one of the BLOOMS carolers who asked each person who stopped for a cup of hot cocoa what kind of changes they’d like to see in their neighborhood. Greeted by a cheery group singing with cookies, Santa hats and sleigh bells, Leon said people were more willing to let their guard down and offer up their visions for the future of the neighborhood, which will help the collective shape their plans for community-driven improvements on 16th Street.
“People are more open when we’re silly,” Leon said.
Some folks said they want more laundromats, cafes and retail shops to open in the area, she said. Several young people said they wanted the street to be safer so that it would be more walkable, and they want more community service opportunities.
Resident Derek Portis said the carolers reminded him of the ’80s, when 16th Street was alive with businesses and foot traffic. Portis said he wants 16th Street to “be like it used to be,” when there was a greater sense of kinship between residents and more commercial opportunity in the area.
William Johnson, another resident who stopped to listen to the holiday songs, said the caroling represents a lot of the traditions and amenities that North Lawndale once had that he hopes neighbors will continue to bring back to the area.
“This is something that this neighborhood and this area in general is lacking. So we do need more things like Christmas carols, and somebody trying to reach out to the youth,” Johnson said.
Pascal Sabino is a Report for America corps member covering Austin, North Lawndale and Garfield Park for Block Club Chicago.
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