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Wicker Park and Bucktown Businesses Invest In Making Neighborhoods Friendlier

CHICAGO (CBS)—Would you talk to strangers on the street for a quick buck?

A new program launched Friday in Bucktown and Wicker Park pays willing local residents $17 to get the scoop on problems happening around the neighborhoods.

Residents who sign up as ambassadors for the program are paid to walk around different neighborhoods and talk to people about anything happening in the community, from concerns about potholes or graffiti to helping visitors with directions.

The Wicker Park Bucktown SSA, or business improvement district, pays locals like Melissa Schlessinger to serve as a friendly face and be the eyes and the ears of the community.

Ambassador program launches in Wicker Park and Bucktown
The Wicker Park Bucktown Chamber of Commerce launched an ambassador program on July 27, 2018.

Schlessinger documents her interactions with strangers and records any concerns in reports she files with the SSA. She's paid $17 per report, at a limit of five per week.

The job offers a great excuse to get outside and enjoy the city on a summer day. Schlessinger strolled around the trendy west side neighborhoods Friday afternoon, chatting with passerby.

"We are watching for graffiti --- bits of sidewalk that might be higher or lower, Schlessinger said.

Maren Rosenberg owns a local business, the Escape Artistry Club, where Schlessinger has a full-time job.

Rosenberg will be reimbursed by the city for the costs of participating in the ambassador program.

"Unfortunately, volunteer-backed work gets a little lazy," Rosenberg said. "When you pay someone, they'll do the job properly.

Funds come from .3 percent of the property taxes collected from 3,300  structures along the area's five main commercial avenues.

Each year, the SSA receives about $1.2 million dollars to be used for aesthetic improvements or neighborhood festivals and other events. This year, $50,000 was set aside for the ambassador program.

Samantha Choudhury of the SSA said businesses in the neighborhood were already doing similar work before the official launch of the program.

"We wanted to make it more official," Choudhury said. "We really are relying on feedback from the ambassadors to make people feel welcome and safer."




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