Up until the end of his days, my uncle was thought of as a bit odd. He owned an old brownstone apartment building on the north side of Chicago. For many years, that neighborhood was a great place to live, filled with mostly working class people who rented from landlords who took care of their properties.
It didn’t take long, however, for those working class people to want to move out of the city. They had kids and wanted yards and room for growing families, something most apartments just couldn’t offer. When landlords had difficulty renting their units, they looked to sell their places and when properties were only getting sold for future development, many were left abandoned and were ripe for all sorts of criminal activity. During the worst of it, visits to my uncle’s place involved dropping off our car at a train station in the suburbs and riding the train in so our vehicle wouldn’t get vandalized or stolen.
While my whole family had encouraged my uncle to sell and get away from the city, he didn’t. Instead, he refused to let what was once a great neighborhood go. My uncle started his own one-man neighborhood watch and meticulously recorded the license plates, descriptions of people and activities, all seen through his living room window. When my uncle saw any suspicious activity, he called the police and though they may have thought of him as a pest at first, soon they saw the value in what he was doing. Any time the police had a problem in that neighborhood, they went to my uncle’s place first and often copied the information my uncle had taken the time to record in a series of notebooks that spanned better than a decade.
While it did take years, the neighborhood eventually turned around, with much of the credit going to my uncle and his efforts to stop crime and criminals from taking over.
My uncle passed away recently, but not before he was able to once again enjoy walking around his neighborhood without fear. Before his death, the mayor gave my uncle an award for his efforts in fighting crime in his neighborhood, and noted what a huge difference just one person could make.