In “Connecting across Austin” [News, July 31], Dan Haley wrote about the need to overcome an artificial boundary — Austin Boulevard — between Chicago’s Austin neighborhood and Oak Park.

But there is a second artificial boundary separating the two communities. That boundary is North Avenue, where lack of attention has led to the proliferation of undesirable businesses (like pawnshops) and vacancies as desirable businesses (like restaurants) have fled.

North Avenue is the only Oak Park business district for which no recent plan exists. (See http://www.oak-park.us/village-services/planning/business-district-plan). On the Chicago side, North Avenue between Austin and Narragansett is part of a TIF with millions in unspent funds.

As Mr. Haley wrote, there are various ways to connect. North Avenue Neighbors Association of Oak Park (NANA-OP) is one of these ways. We’ve been working with Austin and Galewood community organizations for almost a year to halt the blight on North Avenue and turn the business district around.

To the best of our knowledge, this is the first time that residents of Oak Park and the two Chicago communities have worked together on these issues. All north Oak Parkers are invited to join us — just send an email to: opfolk@comcast.net (We especially seek residents with commercial real estate expertise who don’t have direct business interests on North Avenue.) We also urge Oak Parkers living anywhere in the village to support us by shopping and lunching at our brand new farmers market, open every Sunday, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. from August through September, in the parking lot just east of Charter One Bank (6700 W. North Ave., Chicago).

The new farmers market is just one sign of positive change on North Avenue. An advisory committee of residents is forming to work with the business community and governments of Chicago and Oak Park. And elected officials are beginning to focus on North Avenue. Our recent community meeting was attended by Village President Abu-Taleb and most of the village board, the aldermen of the 29th and 36th wards, and a representative of State Senator Harmon’s office. We hope that the Wednesday Journal will resume its coverage of our community meetings and other North Avenue developments.

Judith Alexander and Joe Graber are co-founders of North Avenue Neighbors Association of Oak Park (NANA-OP), a residents organization working for the revitalization of the North Avenue business district between Austin and Harlem avenues. Both have lived in north Oak Park for more than 30 years.

Editor’s note: Wednesday Journal and our sister publication, Austin Weekly News, have coverage of the pawn shop issue in today’s papers, provided by our news-gathering partner, Austin Talks.

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