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Q: How Do You Make Chicago Stronger? A: Invest in Chicago Neighborhoods

Warning that Chicago risks becoming a “tale of two cities” if its neighborhoods deteriorate as downtown thrives, Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Tuesday gave a full-throated endorsement to LISC Chicago’s Campaign for Stronger Neighborhoods, an ambitious effort to raise $40 million to support community rebuilding programs and initiatives.

Mayor Emanuel talked about the 20 corporations that have recently moved their headquarters to Chicago and said more are on the way. But gleaming downtown headquarters – occupied by a number of people who were listening to his comments – do not alone define a great city, he said, particularly if the neighborhoods are struggling.

Mayor Emanuel and Bernita Johnson-Gabriel, executive director of Quad Communities Development Corp., review LISC Chicago's new Campaign for Stronger Neighborhoods brochure.

Gordon Walek

The mayor was one of several community leaders and residents, corporate and foundation executives, and government officials who spoke at a gathering on September 24 at Little Black Pearl to launch LISC’s fundraising campaign. More than $20 million in new grants and loans have already been committed towards the three-year $40 million campaign goal.

“This won’t be a city we know and love if it becomes a tale of two cities,” he said, referencing Charles Dickens’ 1859 novel about the plight of the French peasantry at the hands of the aristocracy. “We need a city that doesn’t have a dichotomy between the neighborhoods and downtown. And that’s where LISC comes in. Its deep expertise in community development fundamentals has made our neighborhoods more dynamic and resilient, and the entire city benefits from LISC’s outstanding work.”

In the last 33 years, LISC Chicago has invested $232 million in community development projects and programs, ranging from affordable housing to safety to technology.

LISC Chicago's Executive Director Susana Vasquez thanked those in the audience for their desire to “see Chicago and all its neighborhoods be safe, strong and vibrant.”

Gordon Walek

The mayor proceeded to do what has become a signature of his administration – encourage private funders to join government in funding programs and initiatives required to make the entire city better and stronger. “I’m not asking you today to step up for LISC,” he said. “I’m asking you to step up for your city.”

LISC Executive Director Susana Vasquez thanked those in the audience for their desire to “see Chicago and all its neighborhoods be safe, strong and vibrant.” She described LISC Chicago’s three-year plan as investing in “what works, what scales, and what succeeds,” an aggressive approach that reaches about half of Chicago’s neighborhoods “by building trust and power to get things done.”

Other speakers included LISC board chair Lori T. Healey; Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois’ Donna Gerber; Bernita Johnson-Gabriel, whose Quad Communities Development Corp. (QCDC) works in the nearby North Kenwood, Oakland, Grand Boulevard and Douglas neighborhoods; 4th Ward Alderman Will Burns; and Maria Valle, a Chicago Lawn resident who has benefited from LISC’s programs.

Lori Healey, the chair of LISC Chicago's board of advisors, is also chairing the Campaign for Stronger Neighborhoods.

Gordon Walek

“Over the years, LISC Chicago has emerged as an efficient, effective, resourceful organization that understands how to link the ideas and aspirations of neighborhood leaders and residents with the people, institutions and resources they need to strengthen their communities,” said Healey, who chairs the Campaign for Stronger Neighborhoods. “This campaign will allow LISC to not only continue that work – which has benefited the entire city – but to expand it to even more communities.”

To demonstrate the impact LISC Chicago has had in recent years, Johnson-Gabriel and QCDC board chair Shirley Newsome led a trolley tour through the Quad neighborhoods, focusing on the transformation of Chicago Housing Authority projects into new mixed-income developments, improvements at several Chicago public schools, and the construction of a new Walmart and affordable housing at 47th Street and Cottage Grove Avenue.

Johnson-Gabriel and QCDC board chair Shirley Newsome led a trolley tour through the Quad neighborhoods.

Gordon Walek

Not many years ago, such developments would have seemed highly unlikely. “You have to close your eyes and remember that (much of) this was public housing, and it was in terrible condition,” said Johnson-Gabriel. Today, seeing new construction on blocks throughout the neighborhood, there’s no denying that the work of QCDC and its partners has helped turn the neighborhood around.

Learn more about the Campaign for Stronger Neighborhoods; download a new brochure about LISC’s work, or contact Caroline Goldstein, Director of Development and Public Relations.

And see more photos from the launch event. 

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Local Initiatives Support Corporation Chicago connects neighborhoods to the resources they need to become stronger and healthier.

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