Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Taking, sharing pictures at the May Day March

Patrick and I were chatting this morning about how cool it is that LISC and NCP groups are sharing photos via flickr. The Workshop is trying something similar out for Thursday's May-Day march.

If you are bringing a camera phone to the march and want to post pictures for folks who can't make it or to view later--Community Media Workshop has created a photobucket account where we will post pictures from marchers' camera phones. Here's how it works:

Send pix from your camera phone to: chicago_mayday.68461@uploads.photobucket.com

As fast as we can moderate and post them, you will be able to view them online at:


or view them at www.communitymediaworkshop.org

It's a bit of an experiment. Next stop for us: twitter. as soon as Maude from my office helps me understand what the hell it is. (Can we say hell on this blog, Patrick?)

Taking action: "Saving Black Boys"

Teamwork Englewood is taking the direct approach to the youth-engagement challenge: it hopes to connect 100 African-American boys with mentors and constructive programming. Phillip Jackson of the Black Star Project kicked off the process at an April 11 event that filled Teamwork's space at Park National Bank on 63rd Street. Four partner agencies – Englewood United Methodist Church, the Peace Center, Boulevard Arts and West Englewood United Methodist Church – will each recruit and support 25 youth.

The goals are to help boys succeed in school and avoid drugs, gangs and violence, said Johnnie Muhammad, Teamwork Englewood's NCP organizer. It's all part of a United Way national pilot program trying to “rescue Black boys from the tragedy we’ve been seeing the last 20 years,” he said.

Read the full story by Richard Muhammad on the Teamwork Englewood web site.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Foreclosure in the news and in the neighborhoods

This week's Crain's Chicago Business has a big cover story, "Foreclosure Fallout," on the impact the subprime mortgage crisis is having in Chicago neighborhoods, both city and suburban. Since you can't read it online unless you subscribe, stay with me here for some of the details.

Over 800 Austin homeowners lost their homes to foreclosure last year, the most of any Chicago neighborhood. Although home prices have fallen in Austin after a steep three-year rise, prospective buyers are finding it harder to get a mortgage due to the credit crunch. Homes sales have plunged to 79 in the last six months, from 192 in the same period the year before.

It's well known that empty houses often become nests of drug dealing and prostitution. I see it firsthand. We have an empty house on my block, and it's been a constant battle to keep squatters involved in those illegal activities out. Right now we're winning, but that could change any minute.

The Crain's story also profiles a pastor fighting drug trafficking in abandoned houses in Humboldt Park and a Logan Square business owner whose cafe, Cherubs, has seen sales fall 20 percent since December.

Times are tough and will get tougher. Many homes bought with adjustable-rate mortgages will shift to higher interest rates over the next two years. This includes the house next door to me, which is in worse shape than mine and costs my neighbors at least $200/month more than mine costs me. They are talking about selling when the mortgage resets, but I shudder to think how hard it will be for them to find a buyer. There's a brand-new brick three-bedroom house across the street that's been on the market for nearly a year.

Despite all the gloom and doom, a few relentless optimists remain in action. One is Carlos Nelson of the Greater Auburn Gresham Development Corporation. I stopped by his office a couple of weeks ago and asked how the mortgage crisis and slowing economy were affecting Auburn Gresham. Rather than give me a long list of new businesses on 79th Street or an explanation of how one person's challenge is another opportunity, Carlos and board member Byam Alexander shifted gears from community developers to rap artists and delivered a quick remake of this famous Public Enemy song:

We ain't in a recession
We in a progression
On the 7-9
Don't. . . don't. . .don't. . .don't believe the hype!

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Solutions to violence: complicated and layered

About 15 years ago when my kids were attending Kilmer Elementary in Rogers Park, a teenager was shot and killed less than 50 yards from the school, which is across the street from Sullivan High School.

It was a traumatic event for the community and it triggered an all-out safety effort among parents and administrators at the two schools. I won't ever forget the months that followed when other parents and I stood on sidewalks and corners after school, wearing orange Parent Patrol armbands. I worked a particularly vulnerable corner with a mother who knew how to talk to teenagers, and I learned from her how to ask groups of older teenagers – in a voice that was both respectful and firm – to move on until after the little children had made it home from school.

The fear and determination I felt in those years has come back to me often in recent months as I read the ongoing reports of killings and beatings near schools across the city. Violence that takes our youth away from us is debilitating at multiple levels: on the blocks where it happens, within the affected families and school communities, and for the city as a whole. How can we consider Chicago a strong city, after all, if children are killed on the streets and we can't stop it?

The fact is, we have many of the tools needed to prevent or reduce violence, and many examples of effective partnerships among community groups, youth programs, the police and violence-prevention groups. Maureen Kelleher just wrote an excellent report on youth-led efforts in Little Village, in which she captured powerful lessons from youth who have been affected by violence.

So I asked Maureen: "Shouldn't there be comprehensive efforts at the neighborhood level that create a level of protection for kids?" She answered with a question: "What would that program look like?"

That's the life-or-death question that a new University of Chicago study will try to get at, but it seems to me that an academic study isn't where the answers are going to be found. They'll be found on the street by committed youth, organizers, police, school administrators and others who work together to create a resilient web of safety.

The question remains: What would that program look like?

Saturday, April 5, 2008

New (media) tools for communities

Ernest Sanders records a radio blog with his phone.
Photo by Eric Young Smith.

Communications was a hot topic last week at the Getting It Done: New Tools for Communities conference, and the clear direction was toward digital "new-media" tools. A few observations:

- Ernest Sanders of Greater Auburn-Gresham Development Corp. showed how his organization has used web sites, video, audio slideshows and even the Vocalo.org radio/web site to promote its work. Oh, and old-fashioned printed newsletters and giant posters on CTA buses, too, because digital doesn't reach everyone, at least not yet.

- The web services firm that has built 10 NCP-related web sites, Webitects, Inc., introduced its "Community Collab" networking site, now in development, that is intended to provide a knowledge-transfer function for people in the community development field. Paul Baker, Billy Belchev and others from Webitects signed up 200 participants from all over the country as potential beta users. The site will be ready for testing by the end of 2008.

- Alberto Ibarguen, president of the Knight Foundation and former publisher of the Miami Herald, tore up his planned speech for the closing luncheon because he wanted to talk about his favorite subject: the need for communities to take up the communications role that newspapers once served. Ibarguen stopped in on the Digital Media and Youth discussion group and liked what he saw. But his pitch was that we all must push aggressively and quickly into the digitized world.

The conference gave the New Communities Program scribe team a good workout, with five writers and two photographers working the action. John McCarron is merging scribe reports into a conference overview that will be available soon. In the meantime, we sorted through some 3,500 digital photos, picked out the best, and learned how to post them in sets on Flickr. We even created a nifty "badge" (in the right-hand column of this blog) to urge people to click through to the galleries.

Thoughts? What are you seeing in the new-media area, or where do you see opportunities in this fast-changing world?