Neighborstead of the Week: Carmen Winona Block Club

This article is cross-posted from OhSoWe with permission from the author.

Name: Carmen Winona Block Club
Approximate Number of Residents: 700
Location: North-side of Chicago
Established: 1980s

The Carmen Winona Block Club is on Chicago’s North Side and is run by volunteer president, Joe Trendl. Joe has been running the club for the past several years, since moving into the neighborhood in 2003. There are about 700 residents that live in the area and, by working together, they have been able to dramatically reduce crime and graffiti in their Neighborstead, and they have a thriving e-mail list.

Neat idea: One of the programs that the neighbors have organized is a 24-hour presence of dog walkers. They observed that dog owners who live within the neighborhood seem to be out at all times of the day and night walking their dogs. So they created a schedule when each neighbor would normally walk their dog and found that they had nearly 24-hour coverage of people walking dogs. There is not always someone on the street and, of course, neighbors walk their dogs at other times if something comes up, but by having eyes (people’s and dogs’) on their neighborhood streets, they reduced crime and graffiti dramatically. It took very little coordination and now they have a safer neighborhood.


Isaac N. Maynard Rowhouses on Chicago's Near North Side. Photo credit: Smallbones. Used under Creative Commons license.

There are three general ways that the Carmen Winona Block Club communicates:

  1. Phone tree – For urgent communications, they have a phone tree in which each person only has to call a few people and word gets out to the entire area.
  2. E-mail – Many of the neighbors are trying to set up an effective e-mail list. They have over 50% participation in their e-mail list.
  3. Condo Associations – The block club has started working with the area condo associations to spread neighborhood news. So, when something is not urgent, like the announcement of the annual meeting, they will contact the association and property managers to post a notice in their lobbies. They send out the posting so that it's easy for the property managers to print and tape up without any formatting.

Their Mission: The Carmen Winona Block Club is an informal organization of neighborhood citizens who meet to discuss and act upon local concerns. By joining together, local people gain effective representation at the ward level. Their alderman strongly prefers to work with community groups rather than individuals in the 48th Ward.


A Chicago resident takes a break from walking his dog. Photo credit: Brian & Jaclyn Drum. Used under Creative Commons license.

Mr. Trendl’s tips for creating a great neighbor-based organization:

  • Open the block club to every resident within the boundaries. We do not differentiate between home owner/renter/property owner/operator/business owner.
  • Allow all to participate ‘at-will’. We allow voices to be heard when it suits the members. In other words, we do not have a rule that to vote on a matter there must be dues paid and a certain number of previous meetings attended. It’s more of a Greek-style democracy in that regard, a little messier at times, but people tend to get active when an issue or topic suits them.
  • We do not collect dues. Our funding is generated by sponsoring an annual sidewalk sale and vendors are charged $11 per table to sell their wares. CWBC, in turn, advertises for the vendors.
  • We strive for equality of voice. Everyone’s opinion is valid and we start meetings knowing that we walked in as neighbors and friends and we leave the arguments on the floor when we exit.
  • Safety is a major issue for us, as it is for everyone. Get people talking to each other. If people know each other, they tend to look out for each other. We use the tag line “Watch out for your neighbor as they are watching out for you.”
  • We have held an annual block party for the last four years and this summer we had over 600 people attend. It is funded through various condo associations, local businesses, and the kindness of individual neighbors. We have gotten great sponsorship from some large corporations with in-kind donations. The more people see each other and have an ability to inter-mingle, the safer the neighborhood becomes.
  • We have a website to archive material.
  • We have a fairly good e-mail list and information is put out daily and often multiple times per day. An informed neighborhood is a strong neighborhood.
  • As a safety measure, we participate in positive loitering exercises, attend and report on CAPS meetings, and established a 911 phone tree amongst a dozen or so neighbors who alert 911 and then each other to either suspicious or illegal activity.
  • We work with our alderman, the 48th Ward Alderman and staff are a terrific group of people who work hard for us.
  • We try to tie into park activities. We conducted a community poll as to what people would like to see in activities at the field house and then the park council found a way to initiate programs that neighbors were willing to support – especially nice during the program cutbacks/cost savings issues the last couple of years.
  • Simply making people aware – not just to news in the area, but also a conduit of information to things like free concerts in the area. We actively help promote community businesses, make general announcements, garage sales, lost pets, etc.
  • We keep our e-mail list confidential. It’s part of the neighbor trust.
  • We are the repository for the eyes and ears of the neighborhood. People call or write with information daily and the info is then disseminated to the whole (really helps promote activity within the block club).
  • The neighbors know that the block club officers, while elected, vote the conscience of the neighborhood. The board has no personal agendas
  • We get people to talk to each other. We have a very dense, high-rise neighborhood and it is difficult for people to interact with each other. Vertical living makes it hard to meet your neighbors and the block club promotes heavy neighbor interaction. It keeps us safe, provides a vibrant community and a sense of pride.
  • We have a garden club established and neighbors provide their personal time and energy to plant and care for the areas public gardens on the bump-outs and strip gardens along Marine Drive.
  • We endeavor to work alongside our neighboring block clubs. It’s all one community and gives us the strength of numbers.

Is your block club or neighborhood association doing some great things you are willing to share? If so, let us know via comments below, e-mail us at feedback@ohsowe.com, or jump to our contact us page.

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