Tuesday, November 25, 2008

CommunityCollab gets 300+ members

The first version of CommunityCollab (beta in techspeak), the professional social network for community developers and organizers, launched October 21.

You can create a profile and start using CommunityCollab right now.

We presented the site at the recent LISC staff meeting, in Philadelphia, and Enterprise Conference, in Baltimore, and got lots of interest. More than 330 have signed up and another 40 have filled out forms indicating their interest in participating.

The Collab currently contains:
— A directory of people working to make communities better. You can find others like yourself, filtered by areas of expertise, city, or organization.
Work updates. Read what other professionals are doing and tell others what you are up to. Compare notes, ask questions, give advice, find someone to collaborate with... whatever you find useful.
Google Maps, which help give a feeling of who's doing what, where.
— The ability to send messages to other members.

Over the next few months we will be adding many more features. How this site evolves, and its value, will depend on how you use it and your feedback. Have fun, and spread the word!

What's Community Organizing? Humboldt Knows

Those who jeered at the mention of community organizing at last summer’s Republican National Convention – and the many more watching on television who weren’t quite sure what Rudy Giuliani and Sarah Palin were talking about – would have received quite an eye-opener the evening of Oct. 22 at LISC/Chicago New Communities Program lead agency Bickerdike Redevelopment Corp.

About 65 key stakeholders from the NCP planning process in Humboldt Park –- ranging from the West Humboldt Park Family and Community Development Council, to the East Humboldt Park Block Club, to the Chicago Police Department -- gathered to celebrate the release of a so-called “mini-update” of their quality-of-life plan, a year in the making.

But there was nothing “mini” about it. NCP director Mayra Hernandez of Bickerdike recounted what Humboldt Park, a veritable poster child of an organized community, has to show for its efforts: more than $1.4 million in funding during the first five years and another $800,000 in the past 15 or so months, leveraging $46 million overall for projects like a community land trust and a prisoner re-entry initiative.

Joy Aruguete, executive director of Bickerdike, said the document, subtitled “The Next Five Years: Raising the Stakes,” contains both new projects and those carried over. “We have more lead agencies and partners,” she said, with 60 organizations and more than 90 participants. “We are blessed to have a wealth of resources in the community. So many of you have come to the table, and it shows.”

The cover of the new plan features before-and-after depictions of two projects that have gone from rendering to reality. The plan contains community context and history, the task force vision and structure, and a breakdown of the seven strategies and 57 projects.

“People have been really impressed with our [subcommittee] structure. It’s helped our ability to cross-germinate projects and ideas,” Aruguete said. “We have all these projects in here [broken out individually], but so many of our projects are interconnected. … There’s a lot of cross-pollination and cross-utilization.”

A representative of the MacArthur Foundation recently told her that the Humboldt Park effort “is doing exactly what NCP set out to do,” she recalled. “In these very difficult economic times … resources are very precious. Funders are making decisions every day about who to lob off and who to keep on. NCP has kept Humboldt Park organizations on the radar screen in a very positive way.”

The original plan, developed in 2003-04 and titled “Staking Our Claim,” brought together more than 40 organizations and featured more than 50 projects to complete over a five-year period. Three years into its implementation, with the MacArthur Foundation pledging another $26 million for five years for NCP, Humboldt Park reconvened beginning in October 2007.

The task force spent the next several months deciding which projects to keep, which to discard (because they had either been completed or were no longer priorities), and which new priorities should be added. Having assisted staff at Bickerdike and other task force agencies in writing both the original plan and this update, I know that many more ideas were left on the cutting-room floor -- but some of those will still move forward, even if not officially part of the plan.

“What happens if you’ve already done 70 percent of the projects in your plan?” Aruguete said during the kickoff meeting a year ago. “We’re getting together -- not to recreate -- but we have to update this plan and expand it.”

The new plan retains the same vision and seven strategies as the first version of “Staking Our Claim,” although the task force adjusted the priority of strategies based on the results of a “bucket exercise,” during which task force participants placed “Humboldt Park” dollars into containers for each strategy. Youth programming reached the top of the list, where improving local schools had been considered the highest priority.

Among the projects completed or in progress from the first plan were several affordable and special needs housing projects, the “Bickerbikes” youth employment and fitness program, the Center for Working Families, the First Community Land Trust of Chicago, the Community of Wellness healthcare coordination efforts, and the Building Community Through the Arts task force and resulting series of projects.

During the rollout celebration, Aruguete noted that many of the original plan’s projects continued moving forward. “We didn’t stop and say, ‘Excuse us while we plan,’ ” she said.

Among projects yet to be completed were a five-year vocational high school, HIV/AIDS reduction programs, new child-care services, employer-assisted housing, and a Minority/Latino Contractors Association. New ideas included an artist live-work space, training opportunities for “green collar” environmentally oriented jobs, a free trolley system, and “Fun in the Park” activities on Sundays.

Hernandez invited those in attendance at the rollout to continue participating in the subcommittees as they turn to project implementation, as well as suggesting potential partners or funding streams to flesh out various projects. “This is important because going forward will be about how we collaborate,” she said. “Don’t think of yourself as a silo. We have enough resources to go around.”

The promise of those resources is what brought together sometimes contentious forces in the community in the first place -- but while they may have come for the grant money, they're staying -- at least in part -- because they like being part of a larger, organized whole that's much more than the sum of its parts.

As Sarah Palin might say, "Oh, you betcha!"

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Placemaking in Theory and Practice

The Metropolitan Planning Council recently came out with a new guide to an old concept. "Placemaking" is a term that has been around since the 1970s in architecture circles to talk about how people and space together create community. At Placemaking Chicago, a website created by MPC in partnership with New York's Project for Public Spaces, you can check out a step-by-step guide to creating great places in your neighborhood and case studies of neighborhood groups in the process of creating cool spaces like the Bloomingdale Trail.

Placemaking Chicago talks about "the power of 10" in a thought-provoking way here:

A great place needs to have at least 10 things to do in it or 10 reasons to be there. But, don't get fixated on a particular number. It's really a matter of offering a variety of things to do in one spot—whose quality as a place then becomes more than the sum of its parts.

Since I had such a great time at Pilsen Open Studios back in October, I've decided to create my own Power of Five challenge and tell you all about five great artists I met in five great spaces during the tour. (And I won't count the earlier post about Victor Montanez, just to raise the bar.) First up: Giselle Mercier showing her stuff at Tianguis.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

From Nicole Jones, a plea to shop local

One of the best small-business promoters I know is Nicole Jones, the super-networker who opened the Sensual Steps Shoe Salon on Cottage Grove in Bronzeville. Now she's promoting more than her own business via an e-newsletter about shopping locally. Here it is:

"Our newly elected President, Barack Obama, has set a new standard in the lives of all Americans. It is time for us to rise and change our beliefs, habits, and attitudes. As a small business owner, I can't help but ponder why six small businesses in my community have failed over the past six months. People often profess the importance of African American owned businesses and diversification of products and services, yet when businesses are developed, many individuals continue patronizing the same stores instead of taking an extra drive, walking a few blocks, or visiting a new area to support local business owners. If African American owned businesses do not have consistent customers and clients, how can their businesses thrive or even survive?

"Our communities can not afford to have any local businesses fail. When this happens, neighborhoods are adversely affected. People should have the pleasure and privilege of living, dining, shopping, and entertaining in their neighborhoods. Businesses should provide professional, efficient, and quality products and services. It is our obligation and responsibility to Shop Local First. Do we invest the tax dollars back into our own neighborhoods, or do we give revenue to other communities to help them prosper? The decision is ours, and so are the consequences.

"Let us stand together and start implementing positive changes that begin with our thinking. Why continue to take tax revenue from your neighborhood? Why complain about the lack of local businesses while traveling outside the community to make purchases? Invest in the businesses that benefit your neighborhoods, and reap the benefits of that investment. Change lives by building stronger, more viable, and sustainable communities. Make a difference and support community-based businesses. Be a part of the solution...one store at a time. It starts with a simple concept: Shop Local First.

"God Bless....Nicole Jones"

Businesses that need your support:

Shoe Stores
Sensual Steps, 4518 S. Cottage Grove,773-548-3338
Divine Sole, 3708 S. Indiana Ave., 773-548-7653
House of Sole, 1237 S. Michigan Ave., 312-834-0909
Kamryn B's, 8301 S. Ashland Ave., 773-881-3296

Art Establishments
Fai'es Art Institute, 4317 S. Cottage Grove, 773-268-2889
Gallery Guichard, 3521 S. King Dr., 773-373-8000

Kiwi Boutique, 1015 S. Western Ave., 312-421-3322
Ms. Catwalk, 2042 N. Damen Ave., 773-235-2750
Goree Shop, 1122 East 47th St., 773-393-3580
Agriculture, 532 East 43rd St., 773-538-5500

Café's and Bistros
Bronzeville Coffee, 528 East 43rd St., 773-536-0494
Ain't She Sweet Café, 4532 S. Cottage Grove, 773-373-3530
Zaleski & Horvath, 1126 E. 47th St., 773-538-7372
Hidden Pearl Art Café, 1060 E. 47th St., 773-285-1211

She also provided this link to localfirstchicago.org

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Three more shot dead; something isn't working

I have a well-practiced line about urban violence that goes something like this: a healthy community, one that truly engages its youth in positive activities and that has a solid network of job and training opportunities for adults, that community will be able to reduce the brutal street killings that mark a less-healthy place, a place where people are angry and lack any real hope for their own future.

But with the gun violence continuing every day in the very neighborhoods where we work to build those healthier systems, I'm having trouble getting those words out of my mouth.

On Monday and Tuesday, a man was killed and a teenager injured in a Southeast Side shooting; a 28-year-old died after being shot in West Humboldt Park; and another man, 22, was killed in North Lawndale. These are cold-blooded murders -- one man walking up to another and shooting him dead.

So when I was repeating my theories about healthier communities to my mother the other day, I had to stop and back up: Either I'm just plain wrong or the efforts underway in the New Communities Program neighborhoods are just not big enough, not good enough, not widespread enough to combat what one of my colleagues has called "a culture of thuggery."

In neighborhoods where one man shoots another for taking a cigar dropped outside of a West Side club, existing efforts are clearly not enough. Getting guns off the street is part of the answer, yes, but at heart this is a human and societal problem, a deep wound in the urban heart that we have not yet learned how to heal.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Creative (and tasty) fundraising in Logan Square

"Times are tough," writes Elena Hernandez of Logan Square Neighborhood Association, "and any contribution helps."

It was one of the most appetizing fundraising pitches I've ever heard. The Dine Local for LSNA campaign sets aside four weeknights when local restaurants will donate 15 to 20 percent of their proceeds to LSNA, the 46-year-old organization serving Logan Square and the Lathrop Homes.

These are some interesting eateries, from the Ecuadorian La Humita (photo) to the Mexican/Cuban El Cid. Great incentive to get together some friends or family and have a nice meal.

Tuesday, Nov 11
Lunch - Atlas Cafe, 3028 W. Armitage Ave. (773) 227-0022 , open at 11 am
El Cid 2, 2645 N. Kedzie Ave. 773-395-0505 open at 9 am
Dinner - Atlas Cafe, 3028 W. Armitage Ave. (773) 227-0022 open until 10pm
La Humita, 3466 N. Pulaski Rd. (773) 794-9672 from 5 to 10 pm. Reservations recommended.
Fonda Del Mar, 3749 W. Fullerton Ave. (773) 489-3748 from 5 to 9pm. Reservations recommended.
Tuesday, Nov 18
Dinner - Cafe Bolero, 2252 N. Western Ave. 773-227-9000 from 5 to 11 pm. Reservations recommended.
La Humita, Fonda Del Mar (see above listings)
Thursdays, Nov 13 and 20
Lunch - Cherubs Café, 2524 W. Fullerton Ave. 773-235-8103
Dinner - La Humita, Fonda Del Mar (see above)

Recycle your cell phone, too
LSNA will also benefit from any old or broken cell phones, blackberries, pagers, or PDAs, including batteries and all of their related accessories. When you bring them to the LSNA office or one of the Community Learning Centers, Collective Good (www.collectivegood.com) will give LSNA 30 cents to $30 per item. Learn more.

Emerging Arts in Little Village

Rather like siblings, the adjoining communities of Little Village and Pilsen are sometimes pigeonholed. With bustling 26th Street at its heart, Little Village is all business; neighboring Pilsen's National Museum of Mexican Art and wealth of galleries make it the artsy one.

Also like siblings, sometimes neighborhoods have to break out of those neat little boxes. A new artists' collective, Villarte, is doing just that by showcasing the vibrant emerging arts scene in Little Village. They got a big boost during the Little Village Arts Fest, held the third weekend in October, when storefronts and apartments around the neighborhood hung giant banners to welcome visitors. One storefront owner along 25th Street is even donating the use of his space for an entire year as a gallery. It's pictured above.

On opening night at Cafe Catedral, the festival's hub, young patrons sporting tattoos and piercings mingled with older folks and children. While visual arts were prominent, spoken word, theater, a book signing and even skateboarding were among the weekend's highlights.

It was fun walking the streets and finding the stop-sign banners everywhere from Cafe Catedral to Henry Cervantes' walk-up apartment, where he showed off some of his paintings to family and friends on Saturday night.

Arts for a cause also played a role. Photos of the megamarches to support immigrant and worker rights filled up a wall of the cafe. On Saturday, Victor Cortés signed copies of his new book, La Marcha, which also chronicled the movement. Throughout the weekend, members of the Colectivo la UVA. sold handcrafted jewelry and displayed photography of their neighborhood.

Best of all, lots of young people got to show off their talents, like graffiti artist and stenciler, "Blis," shown here creating her trademark tag.