Niles, a northwest suburb of Chicago. It’s well known for its iconic replica of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, but it’s also a community thinking about how to revamp one of its signature activities for the future. Efforts are underway to redevelop the Golf Mill shopping center, a nearby park, and plans to improve infrastructure and pedestrian safety.
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Mayor George Alpogianis says it has been an exciting time for the village, staff and residents.
“Golf Mill was once America’s premier shopping mall,” Alpogianis said. “Over time, some bolts and wheels start to come loose. Sterling [the owners] decided that they put both feet forward on this. This is an area in which we put a lot of effort to bring dynamism to the community.
Video: Watch our full interview with George Alpogianis
The village has an above average population of over 65s. It also has an above-average COVID-19 vaccination rate, with over 73% in the ZIP code fully vaccinated.
Nevertheless, the pandemic has always presented challenges for village services. The Niles Fire Department has been a key part of the local pandemic response, coordinating PPE donations and distributing them to hospitals, nursing homes and multi-family buildings.
Last year, the department saw a record call volume.
“We answered nearly 8,000,000 calls. I would say we have definitely seen a continued increase in calls,” Lt. Evan Schachtel said.
“COVID hasn’t stopped all the other emergencies from happening. All these people who have had heart attacks or strokes or these fires or car accidents, all these other emergencies keep happening. We need to be able to transition from COVID response to non-COVID response in the blink of an eye. »
The Leaning Tower of Niles is located on Touhy Avenue. Built in the 1930s, it underwent a major restoration a few years ago to ring its historic bronze bells again after decades of silence.
In the months and years to come, the village hopes visitors will be able to climb to the top – where there’s a view of the Chicago skyline on a clear day – and use the plaza below as a gathering space for things like concerts or art fairs. . This is in line with its original intention, as part of a park built for the employees of businessman Robert Ilg.
“Particularly for the tower, he wanted people to learn about other cultures,” said Katie Schneider, community engagement coordinator for the village.
“It’s definitely one of our goals to have events here and to have rallies here. We have such a diverse community that we want people to come see the tower, experience it, but also share their respective cultures and celebrate our community.
Author and historian Tom Ferraro with the Niles Historical and Cultural Center also hopes that a new buzz around the leaning tower plaza might attract a train station. It’s something he says the Village has wanted for 80 or 100 years.
“Obviously if you look at Rosemont and La Ravinia, for years on the North Shore, those kinds of places are doing really well with entertainment venues like that and they’re bringing the community together again,” Ferraro said. .
It’s a community that Ferraro says has a lot of history that people may not know about, like the Tam O’Shanter Golf Course, which he arguably calls the birthplace of modern professional golf.
“The highest-paying tournaments and TV golf of the 1940s and 1950s – pretty much every name in golf played there and it’s still open as a public course,” Ferraro said. “The Niles Park District now runs it as a nine hole course so you can still play a round of golf on a historic course.”
Ferraro recently released “Niles: The Early Years” and is currently writing “Niles: The New Era”.
Niles is also home to a diverse population. What started as a German farming community later saw a huge influx of Polish residents, and now, a large South Asian population. The need for services tailored to these different communities is what prompted Metropolitan Asia Universal Services come to Niles.
Founded near Des Plaines in 1992, it opened its Niles site more than 20 years ago. It provides services such as home care, adult day care, and fresh cooked meals for the South Asian population. The organization’s founder, Santosh Kumar, says clients often felt isolated after moving to the United States, especially those who moved when they were already older.
“They don’t know how to get anywhere. They can’t read the signs,” Kumar said. “They can’t read anything. And they can’t drive. It was very, very difficult. They were cocooned at home. We speak their language. We observe all the festivals, all the cultural programs that we used to do in India. We are creating India for them. And food, certainly, ethnically appropriate food for them is very important.
The organization also helped all of its clients get vaccinated after vaccines were made available and donated meals when the pandemic first hit.
Kumar says many clients were scared when COVID-19 first hit, and while they’re still cautious, home care offers 80-90-year-olds independence, and daytime gatherings offer a sense of community and a chance to get up and dancing.
Located inside the Golf Mill shopping center, the Niles Teen Center is a staple serving young residents since 2009.
Michael Trevino, the center’s coordinator, says its services and programs aim to encourage students’ creativity, identity and personal development, and have served as an outlet for many teenagers amid the pandemic.
“COVID has us all,” Trevino said. “It really played a role in students feeling isolated from their friends and peers, which led to an increase in depression… The teen center provides an outlet to have human interaction. We recently had a student walk into the center and say, “I love this place, it feels like home. »
Video: Watch our full interview with Michael Trevino
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“Chicago Tonight” is expanding its community reporting. We’re taking to the streets to talk with your neighbors, local businesses, agencies and leaders about COVID-19, the economy, racial justice, education and more. See where we went and what we learned using the map below. Or select a community using the drop-down menu. Dots in Red represent our COVID-19 Across Chicago series; blue marks our “Chicago Tonight” series in Your Neighborhood.