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I have written before about running away to join my brother and his circus. Thanks to a wonderful “Wanna Get Away” fare from Southwest, I was able to fly to Chicago from Raleigh for $87 round trip. Sometimes good things do happen to good people (me).

I also learned about Green Bee parking which is another very nice thing—it involved parking for a very reasonable fee at the Doubletree Hotel and shuttle service to the airport.

My flight was on time, my rental car was ready and I was off to the circus. I flew into Midway which is much smaller and cozier than O’Hare. I had determined (using a map—not GPS) that I could get to the town of Matteson by following Cicero Ave.

It wasn’t until I returned home that I became aware of the latest murder statistics in Chicago. Although I spent most of the trip outside of the city limits, I did drive to and from the airport and through parts of downtown when I missed an exit ramp on the way to Waukegan. Although I am sure there are parts of Southside and other areas of the city where I might feel unsafe, I never had any hesitation about the places where I drove.

While some of the drivers behind me may have been a little impatient as I decided which way to go, I never felt threatened in any way. Since my rental car had Mississippi plates, I can just imagine the comments.

In two of the towns on the circus route, I took a long morning walk. In both cases I was walking through mostly Hispanic neighborhoods, judging by the people I met on the street and the neighborhood stores. I walked over a mile and never saw a house for sale. All of the yards and homes were beautifully kept with recently mowed grass and neatly trimmed shrubs. Flowers bloomed everywhere. Touches of whimsy kept me amused. I never saw a junk car, a piece of trash or anything else out of place. These were modest houses built in the sixties and seventies, well maintained and glowing with pride of place and ownership.

I couldn’t help wondering if peer pressure or ordinance kept the yards so lovely. We have many well- kept lawns around us and several that are truly beautiful, but we also have junk cars, children’s toys, overgrown grass, and litter. I can’t help wondering why the difference?

Restrictive HOA’s in some neighborhoods determine the height of trees and types of plants and uniformity abounds. Nice, but BORING! So what keeps neighborhoods looking good? A high percentage of home owners versus renters certainly helps. I’m assuming that was the case in the places I strolled, but I don’t know. I do know that both neighborhoods had well maintained sidewalks, and schools and parks within easy walking distance. Zoning and planning also play a role.

In one of the neighborhoods, a shopping center and a Home Depot fronted the main road. The side streets held schools, banks and offices. Then behind the shopping center and between the side streets were blocks of residential streets, some of which dead ended behind the commercial locations, separated by fencing and landscaping. I somehow doubt that this just happened without an active planning and zoning presence. The entire area was attractive and walkable, with push button pedestrian crosswalks on even the busiest streets. In Waukegan, City buses traversed the main thoroughfares at frequent intervals. Downtown, commuter trains connected to Chicago and elsewhere. Waukegan is a city of 88,000. With a Lake Michigan marina and beach, easy transportation and a peaceful air, it would seem a nice place to live. Except for the winters.

 

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