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For Stronger City, Begin Planning in Neighborhoods

The most valuable insight among many in the Chicago Tribune’sNew Plan of Chicago” series was in the October 6 kickoff editorial, when the Trib noted that Chicago’s challenges are “intertwined” and cannot be remedied one at a time.

They cannot be solved without a bold plan that ties the strands together.

At neighborhood planning meetings, residents identify locations of interest and projects that would address local needs.

Eric Young Smith

So here’s a bold plan. Let’s get our neighborhoods to plan for themselves, and then work with leaders – who cut across those neighborhoods – to see how these local plans can reinforce each other and help advance the robust set of new plans the City has already developed for the arts, economic development, housing and tech.

Let’s ask our private-sector partners – corporations and philanthropists old and new – to invest in this coordinated planning process; in the organizational infrastructure that will move the plans into action; and in the data systems necessary to inform the work, so that we can move from aspirational ideas to achievable, lasting results.

We’ll need a 21st century understanding of what makes a city and its neighborhoods work. That means building robust local networks of people and institutions that can connect face-to-face and through digital platforms to respond to opportunities and threats, so that our neighborhoods are stronger, healthier, more resilient. In this “hyper-local” era, citizens don’t want government planning for them. They want to plan for themselves and organize into networks and communities on issues that matter to them.

21st Century planning

Starting in 2003, neighborhood partners in LISC’s New Communities Program (NCP) engaged thousands of residents in the creation of 14 neighborhood quality-of-life plans. Those plans created local visions and buy-in, jump-started new thinking on community development, leveraged more than $500 million in new investment, and created real impact around the city, advancing urban farms in Englewood, new housing and retail development in Grand Boulevard, and a model violence prevention collaborative in Little Village.

But that was a decade ago. Finding comprehensive solutions to today’s social and economic problems will require 21st century quality-of-life planning.

Neighbors create strategy lists and then discuss how best to implement them.

Here’s how we could do it. First, you need strong neighborhood institutions to lead the engagement and planning process in each community. LISC has worked with a diverse set of local partners, from community organizing groups to a conservatory alliance to decades-old community development corporations. Depending on the neighborhood, it could also be a local museum, branch library or any other trusted institution that can engage residents and other stakeholders (online and offline), bringing new partners and new technology to the table to tackle the issues that will be put on that table.

Second, you need a “data partner.” LISC has worked well with Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago, DePaul’s Institute for Housing Studies and others to tap into Chicago’s vast data universe. It’s essential to help community leaders understand the issues and opportunities, to inform the strategies, and to create systems that will track progress against the plan.

Third, you need technical support – innovative planners who think about the physical and social dimensions of a neighborhood, great writers (we use journalists and call them “scribes”), and cross-community advisors to help build a mindset and skill set that helps multiple partners integrate their efforts.

Lastly, you need cash. What’s a plan, after all, without some seed dollars to start implementation?

Top down, bottom up

The City of Chicago will have to play a leadership role. True neighborhood representation will be essential. And yes, citywide partners like LISC will be necessary to help coordinate the local knowledge and neighborhood plans with big data and citywide plans.

Top down and bottom up. That’s the only way to plan in the 21st century city.

Engaging youth is essential to addressing long-term challenges like education and safety.

Patrick Barry

The Tribune is right that a new Plan of Chicago is needed. But in a city with a thriving central area flanked by so many lower-income communities, the kind of planning that will produce the most benefits – on the scale of the Burnham Plan – is a neighborhood-by-neighborhood approach, stitched together in a cohesive citywide framework.

We as a city know how to do this. What we need is new civic commitment, mechanisms to get local planning underway, and the will to invest in all corners of the city to help Chicago enter yet another great era of prosperity.

Susana Vasquez is executive director of LISC Chicago.

Posted in General news

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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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