I'm nearing the 20th anniversary of my arrival as a resident and neighbor of an area identified on the Decatur neighborhood map as "Jasper Park" neighborhood. At the time, the neighborhood boundaries were decided based on the surrounding infrastructure and landmark barriers, such as US Highway 36, the old Illinois Central railroad, and East Wood Street. I bought a home needing a new roof shortly, an old gravity coal/oil/then natural gas insert furnace, and an "old lady" palette of yellows and 40 year old wallpaper, and a practically unchanged bathroom with its original 1925 fixtures with mirror tiles.
It was the mark of adulthood arrival, mortgage and home repairs. A new furnace was in just a month after purchase, and my brother, grandfather, and myself removed the 4 layers of asphalt shingles to put a new roof. Slowly and steady, gradually and often from necessity, the house became updated.
My first home purchase is my only home purchase now. And while some of the first things on that initial improvement list have been completed, there are always new improvements awaiting the proud homeowner of a 1925 3 bedroom bungalow.
The Jasper Park neighborhood boundaries were formally revised in 2007, when the Clokey Park Neighborhood Association set its established boundaries as Jasper Street, Eldorado, 22nd and Wood. At that time, Jasper Street still had Schuermann Locksmith, two insurance agent offices, a used appliance store, and a signage shop.
And East Side Market was the last neighborhood grocery store in Decatur.
Many of the neighbors I first met have either moved on or have died. I now realize that I'm a middle-aged settler of this neighborhood, almost an East Sider native. My son is a Sophomore at Eisenhower High School. He was 4 when Clokey Park Neighborhood Association was born.
We still had an abandoned public school facility, Roach School, standing on East William. Also the long forgotten Greene's grocery store building. There was a Hardee's restaurant where Family Video now does business.
And don't get me started about the loss of our beloved Del Carmen's Pizza East... please come home soon!
Much like my diamond-in-the-rough experience of homeownership, the same is true with our neighborhood. We've lost a bit in 20 years, but we are also gaining, adapting, and hopefully, working towards a recovery. We happen to be the halfway neighborhood between a revitalized downtown and a revitalized Nelson Park. That is promising, indeed.
Our voice is present in City government, non-profit organizations, among others. We have new approaches along East Main street, and new businesses have begun along Jasper Street.
Do we have a legacy of disinvestment and low-value real estate? Yes. Will it always be? No, I don't think it will.
What does the future look like? How we engage in opportunity, how we seek solutions to our problems, how we respond to our community issues will be how the future becomes reality. We can deny, excuse, or even permit the worse possible outcomes. Or we can join together, draw resources, confront the problems and issues until they are solved or overcome.
Some may believe that I'm a dreamy optimist, ungrounded in thinking a new day could come to a neighborhood whose first breaths were drawn as farms a half mile away from a little village on the prairie called Decatur. Neighborhoods, like its residents, are born, live, and die. But what dies often gives space for the new to come.
And the new is coming. People are interested in smaller homes, easier lawn care, fewer encumbrances, and yes, living less inside an automobile for shopping, working, and entertainment.
Make your new home in Clokey Park. A new day is dawning to the east...