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Neighborhood as Ground for Social Change


In a column last week,David Brooks, the Canadian-born American conservative political and cultural commentator who writes fortheNew York Times,advanced a sociological theory that identifies neighborhood as the essential element of social change.  If you’re trying to improve lives, he said, “you might have to think about changing many elements of a single neighborhood, in a systematic way, at a steady pace.”  He went on to affirm that, “place matters as much as ever, and much more than we ever knew.”

Brooks’ observations on social impact underscore the importance of the work we do every day at Jewish Neighborhood Development Council of Chicago.   West Rogers Park, which has been the core focus of our work, is, by multiple decades, the longest-standing Jewish neighborhood in the history of Chicago.  As respected author and Chicago Jewish history expert Dr. Irving Cutler has stated, the other leading Jewish neighborhoods in the city’s history -- Maxwell Street and Lawndale -- lasted for about 45 years before disappearing completely.  WRP is in its ninth decade as a Jewish neighborhood, and after a significant decline, the community is growing again.  

Every day we’re here, we set a new record.

Jewish WRP is a teeming locus of social change on a grand scale.  And JNDC is undergirding the stability of our community by remediating festering problems that others saw but chose to ignore:  advocating for the transformation of blighted corners into beautiful new parks; advocating for the transformation of neglected stretches of overgrown weeds and invasive plants into what will be a beautiful, environmentally friendly natural area; advocating for a worn-out and undersized library to be supplanted by a big, new, state-of-the-art branch; stewarding empty storefronts into new thriving businesses. 

JNDC is placing a firm foundation under perhaps the greatest social change ever experienced by a Jewish neighborhood in our city. 

Jewish neighborhood resurgence and longevity is social change. 

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