Can communities reclaim and repurpose their own spaces away from gang violence by collectively occupying them at the right times?
The Resurrection Project (TRP) in Chicago staged a series of “campouts for peace” in gun violence “hotspots”–corners where violent incidents often occur– on the city’s infamously violent south side last summer during the months when violent incidents are most frequent. The campouts bring together community actors for collective events that aim to reclaim public space for neighborhood residents.
image courtesy of TRP
Gang violence has been wreaking havoc on Chicago’s southside for decades. In 2016, shooting-related deaths reached a twenty-year high, totally over 760 deaths.3; Gun violence has far-reaching effects beyond the deaths of its direct victims. Communities on the south side lose access to their their public spaces out of obvious safety concerns. The less occupied a space is, the better it becomes for crime. When people stop inhabiting their spaces out of fear, those spaces become more dangerous. Founded in 1990, The Resurrection Project was envisioned to revitalize the Pilsen neighborhood of Chicago. Initially funded with $30,000 from six churches totaling $30,000, TRP has since invested over $346 million is housing assistance for families and students, legal assistance around immigration, and peacemaking programs.1
Before a campout, TRP spends a week canvassing in a neighborhood to bring the community into the project, and cleaning the streets.1; The campouts take place at the hours violence is most likely to occur: Fridays after 5pm.2 They begin with a peace march but also include a vigil for gun violence, food donated by local businesses and residents, financial literacy training, employment workshops, and sports.2 TRP uses local actors to organize in their own communities.1; Berto Aguayo, TRP’s Safety and Nonviolence Community Organizer, organized an campout in his own neighborhood, Back of the Yards October 7, 2017. TRP creates networks of local leaders they help train to work for peace in their own communities, youth, and local businesses: “Our goal is to work with residents to build community leaders and activate them to make positive changes in the neighborhood,” said Berto. “It’s also important to continuously work with youth and help them become peacemakers in the community.1
Photo courtesy of TRP
The campouts were attended by hundreds of community members who were able to reoccupy their own spaces and put them to productive, open-ended use. No campout resulted in a violent incident. This suggests that rather than abandoning spaces taken by fear of violence, communities can reclaim them using collective programming. While aided by TRP, these actions were mostly efforts by the community themselves. Building and working with local networks strengthens and fine tunes the effectiveness of urban interventions.