“Give us the help we need;” Residents, city leaders look to revitalize inner-city neighborhood

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DECATUR, Ill. (WCIA) — Community members and city leaders are on the same page: it’s time to improve inner-city neighborhoods.

But where they differ is on how to solve the issue.

The city is set to install security cameras in the Johns Hill neighborhood later this year to fight crime and gun violence. But some say other issues need to be resolved first.

“Why put cameras up before you clean the problem up?” Von Thomas wants to know.

He’s looking for answers and action.

After all, he’s worked hard to make his home, as well as his food truck, “The Turkey Man,” a boon to Wood Street. But some properties stand in the way.

The Turkey Man

“Go across the street and you’ve got a burned out house, two abandoned houses just sitting there,” he says. “Tear them down.”

Thomas says that should be the city’s priority.

“Cameras aren’t going to solve the issue,” he argues. “It may stop crime, but let’s fix it up first. Let’s give the cameras something to watch.”

It upsets Thomas to see neighbors, like 70-year-old Marine Corps veteran Tony Knotts, waiting for their homes to be repaired. Neighbors eventually stepped in to help Knotts fix his porch. Knotts says the group looks out for each other. There’s no neighborhood watch, but they care about the area.

“To have cameras, it’s been a long time coming,” Knotts acknowledges. “It is needed. Make no mistake about it, ’cause this is an area where we do have drug activity.”

As WCIA reported in October 2020, the city will be installing between 22-39 cameras in the area to help police. Some of the cameras will have license plate reading technology. A donation from the Howard G. Buffett Foundation will cover costs.

For city manager Scot Wrighton, the debate over cameras or construction is two sides of the same coin.

“It’s important to look at neighborhoods holistically,” Wrighton says. “It’s not about just a new sidewalk or just a new property or just security cameras. It’s the effect of all of them together.”

Wrighton says the city has to be “surgically” selective about which properties to rehab. It owns hundreds.

“The city’s strategy is to do targeted projects, whether that’s a rehab project or it’s a clearing project, then trying to find a developer or some other approach in repurposing the property,” he says. “Our desire is not to be a landowner but to get it back into productive use.”

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