When a group representing the far North Side neighborhood of Rogers Park sat down recently with a group from the far South Side neighborhood of Beverly, they found they shared a common goal of revitalizing underperforming commercial corridors in their respective communities.
Being geographically separated by almost the entirety of Chicago, it's unlikely they would have crossed paths - much less achieved this realization without their mutual participation in LISC's Chicago Plans.
Chicago Plans is a four-part series of workshops aimed at preparing community members to lead and engage in participatory planning processes in neighborhoods across the city. The program builds on LISC's more than 35 years of experience in community development and methods developed in its New Communities Program which strengthens neighborhoods through comprehensive planning and implementation.
At the recent Chicago Plans kickoff workshop in Pilsen, participants learned about each other's backgrounds before diving into conversations about the issues they face and the potential to address them through planning.
"You don't want to reinvent the wheel, so learning from other people about what they've done in their neighborhoods is a really great resource," said Kate McKenna of the West Town Chamber of Commerce.
"Sometimes in the back of your mind you know the outcome you'd like to see, but it's important not to fall back into a top-down style of leadership," said Erin Ross, center, of the 95Street Business Association. She's flanked on left by Tristan Angus from the 19th Ward alderman's office and Margot Holland, executive director of the Beverly Area Planning Association.
Photos by Gordon Walek
At its core, planning is a tool through which community members come together to discuss shared problems, formulate solutions and cultivate partnerships to achieve a community-articulated vision for the future. The challenge comes in ensuring the process is truly participatory and inclusive.
That's where Chicago Plans comes in. In addition to providing a space for participants to get to know one another, the kickoff workshop introduced teams to the Institute of Cultural Affair's Technology of Participation model. ToP, as it's commonly referred to, is a facilitation method focused on cultivating participatory, rather than hierarchical, processes.
Through a series of exercises that prompted participants to consider whether inclusive processes could yield meaningful results, teams refined their ideas of what it means to engage in neighborhood planning. For many, the result was a reconceptualization of their roles as community leaders.
"Sometimes in the back of your mind you know the outcome you'd like to see, but it's important not to fall back into a top-down style of leadership," said Erin Ross of the 95Street Business Association.
Over the course of the three remaining workshops, teams will observe, discuss and practice other tools to empower them with the skills needed to devise, execute and participate in planning initiatives in neighborhoods across the city.
This spring's Chicago Plans cohort comprises 10 neighborhood-based teams of three participants each. Several groups have long histories of working with LISC, but others, such as Team Morgan Park, are relative newcomers. LISC Chicago Program Officer Jake Ament said the diversity of this year's cohort allows for an environment in which learning experiences are maximized.
.LISC Chicago Program Officer Jake Ament, right, said the diversity of this year's cohort allows for an environment in which learning experiences are maximized.
Team Pilsen, for example, includes several members who represent organizations that were deeply involved in the development of their neighborhood's 2006 Quality-of-Life Plan. They contribute a wealth of knowledge about the nuts and bolts of planning. The West Rogers Park team, on the other hand, has bridged many divides but is newer to the planning world. They bring a fresh perspective and a willingness to question and innovate.
"I'm excited that between this Spring and last Fall we've touched nearly every corner of Chicago," Ament said. "We also have some great team combinations in each neighborhood - engaged resident leaders, diverse non-profits seeking a common vision and three different Aldermanic offices. "
The ongoing relationships of earlier Chicago Plans participants speak to the program's ability to cultivate durable networks of community leaders focused on engaging their neighbors and, ultimately, strengthening the city.
Despite having graduated from the program in December, members of last year's Chicago Plans cohort have stayed in contact about their work. Their ongoing relationships speak to the program's ability to cultivate durable networks of community leaders focused on engaging their neighbors and, ultimately, strengthening the city.
Chicago Plans is generously supported by the Chicago Community Trust.
For more information, contact Jake Ament at (312) 422-9573 or email@example.com