If you ask DeLinda Herod, Acting President of the Fairmont Community Partnership, what the future of Fairmont looks like and she’ll tell you: a viable, thriving community of families, seniors and small businesses.
“We’ve been overlooked by everybody for years and years,” says Herod. “But it’s finally changing now.”
Fairmont – an unincorporated area of Will County between the City of Lockport and the City of Joliet with roughly 2500 mostly minority residents – lacks basic infrastructure such as sidewalks, street lights, curbs and gutters on streets, and garbage pickup.
Deterioration of older properties, loss of jobs in the area and isolation made it easier for Fairmont to fall into disrepair, while communities around Fairmont were expanding or rebuilding. Without garbage removal, vacant lots became dumps.
It wasn’t just Fairmont residents; people outside the area would dump trash here, thinking this is a poor neighborhood, so nobody cares.
“Well, we do care,” says Herod. “And we’re proud of our community.”
The 2012 Fairmont Neighborhood Plan, developed by Will County and funded by a grant from the Chicago Metro Planning Agency, is now being implemented to revitalize the area. The county has installed sidewalks and bus shelters, provides funding and assistance for homeowners needed to repair their property, and is addressing the massive flooding issues afflicting the area.
The residents cleaned up areas that had become dump sites, and Herod launched the "Keep Your 50 Clean" campaign, encouraging homeowners to keep their 50-foot-wide lots mowed and cleared of debris.
Partnerships with Habitat for Humanity, ShareFest New Lenox and numerous churches have brought much needed awareness and assistance to Fairmont.
But the neighbors finally had a focus for their energy when they came together to oppose the proposed 4-lane highway along Oak Avenue, which cuts directly through the heart of Fairmont. The highway, if built, would provide a much needed second bridge through Lockport over the Des Plaines River and provide a direct link to Homer Glen. Proponents say it will bring desperately needed economic development to this low-income area.
Herod doubts that Fairmont residents would see any jobs resulting from the highway. “Maybe there would be an increase in intermodal dollars,” she says. “They wouldn’t be employing Fairmont residents.”
She believes the problems the highway will bring far outweigh any hypothetical gains in the future. “It will divide our neighborhood in half. Our kids will have to cross the highway just to get to school. Older people, people who’ve lived here all their lives and can’t afford to move, what happens to them?”
Others in the neighborhood agreed, citing construction blockages, noise, disruption of the neighborhood, and barriers for first responders to reach Fairmont in the event of emergencies. The Fairmont Community Partnership is about uniting and rebuilding our community, not dividing and destroying it.
Will County Land Use department is moving ahead on infrastructure and home repair projects. Herod recently had a rain garden installed in her yard to create a barrier for flooding. And residents are working together to make improvements.
“There’s so much more to be done,” says Herod. “But, finally, we are moving in the right direction.”