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LISC’s Quality-of-Life Planning Bettering Neighborhoods throughout Chicago

Attracting new businesses to West 79th Street is a mission for Carlos Nelson, executive director of the Greater Auburn-Gresham Development Corporation (GAGDC), and his associate, Nicole Wheatly. Renovation of a four-story building just west of Halsted Street is expected to begin later this year.

Gordon Walek

In its third decade, LISC’s Quality-of-Life Planning (QLP) is bringing equitable change to neighborhoods throughout Chicago. 

In the late 1990s, LISC, with leadership support from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, created the New Communities Program (NCP), a groundbreaking, bottom-up comprehensive community planning effort led by community residents and supported by LISC. These QLPs are visions for a community’s future created and owned by the community and have served as a guide for investments and actions. 

Auburn Gresham on the move

In Auburn Gresham, the QLP identified a need for living wage employment opportunities and a location in the community for residents to access health services. That shared vision has led to the Healthy Lifestyle Building at 839 W. 79th St. which will begin construction in the late spring of 2018. When the building opens in early 2019, it will bring hundreds of jobs and educational opportunities for residents. Carlos Nelson, executive director of the Greater Auburn-Gresham Development Corporation (GAGDC), expects the complex to contribute to a regrowth of the South Side neighborhood, noting an emerging plan for a giant fitness/athletic complex across the street, which could include a swimming pool, track, indoor lacrosse and soccer fields, and a basketball court that would be home to Leo High School’s standout hoops team.

Major rehab of the Healthy Lifestyle Building at 839 W. 79th St. is expected to begin this spring. When the building opens in early 2019, it will bring hundreds of jobs and educational opportunities for Auburn Gresham residents. 

“The Healthy Lifestyle Building will be a catalyst for additional development,” Nelson said. “It won’t be a one-hit wonder. Our plans are to repurpose vacant land that was left over after decades of disinvestment.” 

Changes on Near North Side

A few miles north, the QLP helped set the stage for the upcoming merger between Chicago Public School’s Jenner Academy and Ogden International on the Near North Side. 

Randall Blakey, executive director of the Near North Unity Program (NNUP), said the three-and-a-half year process to merge the schools – Ogden is majority white students; Jenner mostly minority students – was recommended by CPS in December 2017 and will be officially voted on by the Chicago Public Schools Board of Education in February 2018, with the schools merging prior to the 2018-19 school year.

“I’m ecstatic about this,” Blakey said. “What it means is this cross-cultural learning opportunity has a chance to take place within a community and with kids who are totally different from each other, but they have a lot to learn from one another.” 

But the most important impact, “has been the capacity the planning process has built within neighborhoods to create and leverage opportunities like the Jenner-Ogden merger and Auburn Gresham’s Healthy Lifestyle Building – bringing both into reality,” said Jake Ament, Director, Neighborhood Network, LISC Chicago.

Ogden International School Principal Michael Beyer receives an award from Near North Unity Program Executive Director Randall Blakey at a NNUP gathering in late 2017. 

Gordon Walek

During the planning process, LISC provides capacity-building and support via a neighborhood-based lead agency that convenes local residents and institutions to create a central community council and vision. Once the QLP is completed, LISC continues to provide technical support and resources for implementation. 

Quality-of-Life planning throughout the city

To date, 23 QLPs have been created. These plans have garnered more than $850 million in new investments aligned in support of community visions in neighborhoods across the city. 

Recent QLP highlights for neighborhoods throughout Chicago include:

  • Englewood: The original QLP which was created in 2005 called for a new grocery store and revitalizing the once-thriving 63rd Street shopping district – Englewood Square with the new Whole Foods, Starbucks, Chipotle and other retail and services is a major win. An updated plan in 2016 and LISC’s Southwest Corridor Collaborative is working to leverage this investment to help build the economic future of Englewood and its residents. Additionally, in 2017 homicides and shootings declined by more than 40 percent compared to 2016 (the highest decrease of any police district in Chicago). The public safety task force, formed through the 2016 Quality-of-Life Plan, includes residents, police officers, street outreach workers and case managers who hosted several events in 2017 to promote peace and healing. The community was awarded a competitive $1 million grant from the Department of Justice to continue to drive down crime by engaging community residents.
  • Belmont Cragin: One of the newest QLPs has already seen some early wins through a multi-million-dollar youth center by After School Matters; a new school-based health center opened by PCC in Steinmetz High School; and an announcement this summer of $4.5 million in upgrades to the Steinmetz athletic fields by CPS and Cubs Charities Diamond Project.
  • Pilsen: The announcement last year by the City of Chicago that it will develop the Paseo Trail fulfills a vision in the original 2006 plan, passing near several major affordable housing developments already completed by partners such as The Resurrection Project on the Pilsen Planning Committee

Principal Michael Beyer of Ogden International school makes time for some basketball with Jenner Academy of the Arts students.

Courtesy of NNUP 

Since QLPs focus on and connect the highest priorities identified by the community, the impact that results rarely just achieves one goal at a time. In Auburn Gresham, the Healthy Lifestyle Building project will create 40-50 construction jobs from primarily neighborhood residents, Nelson said, plus 200-plus additional jobs once the building is finished. That includes teachers in workforce development leadership programs where adults whose students attend local schools can take resume/computer workshops and other trade skills. The building also will provide free income tax services for thousands of residents, Nelson added. 

“It’s not only going to light up the community but provide tangible jobs,” Nelson said. 

Blakey said similar parent-mentoring programs will take place following the Ogden-Jenner merger.

“We want to know if a parent is unemployed, underemployed or undereducated,” Blakey said. “Then a facilitator will come in and provide resources to parents.” 

Michele Dreczynski, Chair of NNUP's Youth and Families committee, helped lead the pending merger of Jenner and Ogden schools.

Gordon Walek 

According to Blakey, the impending merger has been well received, but it has taken a lot of intentional relationship building and education to get there. As part of the Jenner and Ogden Learning Together (JOLT) group, students and parents from both schools have gone to Cubs games together, had lunch at each other’s school campuses, and written letters to each other. In the summer of 2018, Blakey said the Ogden and Jenner students will participate in group cleanups of the Chicago River as well. 

“This is a new cross-cultural learning opportunity,” Blakey said. “It’s going to be a model for the city, and I think the country as well.” 

Planning and the stronger neighborhood structures that result are continuing this year on the West and Northwest sides.  

Jake Ament, Director, Neighborhood Network, LISC Chicago, says Quality-of-Life planning is bringing innovative ideas and significant investments to neighborhoods throughout the city.

Gordon Walek

“Look for big things over the next two years from Austin, which is creating its first-ever plan,” said Ament. “They are joining North Lawndale and Hermosa/West Logan Square, who are each building on a 2005 Quality-of-Life Plan but expanding into new areas. Things are very different 12 years later, but each neighborhood is working on innovative ideas to bring needed investments while making sure that they build wealth and ownership for long-term residents.”


Posted in Auburn Gresham, Near North Side


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