Friday, October 8, 2010

Three more portals for Smart Communities

The three Southwest neighborhoods in Chicago's Smart Communities program launched their portals yesterday, creating a wide new avenue for interaction among residents, businesses and organizations.

They are works in progress, with some empty spaces yet to fill, but already the portals offer new stories and photos highlighting activities not easily found elsewhere on the web.

Check them out:
Auburn Gresham:
Chicago Lawn:

The three sites have automatic cross-links to each other to build connections among the communities, but each is likely to develop its own personality over time. Give them a visit and, if you live or work in one of those areas, submit some information to make the portals better.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Peirce on Daley

Syndicated state and local government columnist Neal Peirce's recent summary of Mayor Daley's legacy on the Citistates site will seem fawning to Daley's critics. There is only a brief mention at the end about patronage and corruption, and no mention at all about the privatization controversies that have plagued the latter part of the mayor's tenure, most particularly the parking meter fiasco. Still, Peirce lends his expertise and a nice balanced account of our city's achievements -- and what's yet to be achieved -- in areas like ties to the global economy, school reform and public housing.

You can judge for yourself at

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Preview: Humboldt Park Launches Its Portal

It's still a work in progress, according to the team that made it happen, but the Humboldt Park Portal, a day after its "soft" launch, looks pretty good to me. It features a nice selection of stories from various contributors and organizations, a packed calendar (Movies in the Park, Jens Jensen birthday bus tour, CeaseFire Late Night Run), and plenty of photos, directory listings and links to community information sources.

The portal is an early step in Humboldt Park's rollout as one of five Chicago Smart Communities, and it will be a key tool in building digital skills among local residents. Give it a look, and if you're from the neighborhood, submit some news or directory listings of your own.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Take a Tour of Pilsen - by Video or Phone

We've written here before about how neighborhoods are using multimedia tools to promote their work and their neighborhoods, but couldn't have imagined, even six months ago, how far the groups would come, and how fast.
  • Audio slideshows are now available for 10 neighborhoods as part of the Chicago Community Showcase project, funded by the 2016 Fund for Chicago Neighborhoods and Boeing Company. The photos, maps and background info provide vivid introductions to neighborhoods that usually don't make it onto tourists' agendas.
  • A virtual walking tour of Pilsen by TuMultimedia (below) captures many of the colors, sounds and flavors that make that neighborhood so interesting and vibrant.
  • New mobile-device tours of five neighborhoods provide photos and audio narration via smart phones. If you've got your phone handy, just go to
It's great stuff. Kudos to all the neighborhood people who put the tours together; Sally Duros and Amadi Jordan-Walker, who managed the program and saw to thousands of tiny details; and Sarahmaria Gomez and Alex Fledderjohn for their video tours.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Front-Yard Signs Call Out Banks on Foreclosures

Southwest Organizing Project (SWOP) is "naming names" of banks that are foreclosing on properties on Chicago's Southwest Side, where 7,300 foreclosures have been filed over two years in four area ZIP Codes. The bank names are prominently featured on yard signs that say "Deutsch Bank (or Citibank or JP Morgan Chase or Bank of America) failed this neighborhood through foreclosures."

First Business News filed a news report on June 14, below.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Pro-quality Music Video from Crane High Students

Very impressive!

The music video below looks like something from a record-label's studio, but it was created and produced by 12 students at Crane Tech Prep High School in Chicago's West Haven neighborhood. The project was a joint effort between the students; their teacher "Gravity," owner of OOO Multimedium; After School Matters; and the Near West Side Community Development Corp.

"The idea was to do everything super high quality so that these kids could see themselves in a different light," said Gravity in an interview with Near West outreach coordinator Darvolis Robinson.

"We recorded the song, got a mix on the song, shot the video and got the edit all in just under TWO WEEKS! Amazing! We are talking about 12 kids (3 singers & 8 lyricists) who had very minimal or no prior studio experience and nailed all of the vocals in one session! I have been in the entertainment business for quite some time and trust me when I tell you that is nothing short of amazing!"

The video shows what can be accomplished when expectations are set high rather than low.

"When I told people of what I was planning to do with this class," said Gravity, "they all thought it was a fabulous idea until I told them I was doing it at Crane! I couldn’t believe that people were writing off an entire student body based on hearsay or bad press! I originally grew up in Harlem N.Y. and I remember how it felt for people to prejudge me and what I had to offer. Sadly I still deal with being prejudged today as an adult, but now I have the power and means to prove those people wrong all of the time. I decided to treat these kids the same way I so often wished and still wish to be treated, and give them the power to change people’s perspective of who they are and what they have to offer!"

Congrats to the students for a fine piece of work, and thanks to Near West for passing on the information.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

South Chicago Does Green in a Big Way

Lots of communities and individuals talk about "being green," but few can show as much actual green activity as the former steel mill community of South Chicago, which in May will host 80 green-oriented events from habitat restoration and urban farming to tours, youth programs, cycling events and health activities. It's a structured month-long calendar put together by community organizations involved in the South Chicago Green Summit. That's a now-annual event that grew out of the local strategy to turn the "steel town into green town."

And so it shouldn't be a surprise that one of the leaders of all this activity, Claretian Associates Executive Director Angela Hurlock, was honored as one of Chicago Magazine's 2010 Green Awards. Hurlock lives in one of the energy-conserving and solar-electricity-generating houses that Claretian builds, and she leads a broad range of community-building programs that, alongside the green strategies, will help South Chicago reconnect to the mainstream economy after many years as a depressed post-steel neighborhood.

Congrats to Angela Hurlock and her colleagues. On the video, her segment runs from 3:20 to 6:00.

Chicago magazine's 2010 Green Awards from Chicago magazine on Vimeo.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Neighborhoods Take the Offensive on Affordable Housing

(Rendering of proposed building at 3230 W. Armitage Ave., from the Zapata Apartments web site)

The Zapata Apartments development, three buildings with 66 affordable residential units and ground-floor commercial space, seems to a lot of people like a very good idea. Filling vacant spaces on and near Armitage Avenue and providing a mix of one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments, the Zapata project is a response by two respected community groups – Logan Square Neighborhood Association and Bickerdike Redevelopment Corporation – to the heavy local demand for affordable housing.

But there's another viewpoint, a familiar one in Chicago, that there's enough "low-income" housing already and that what the neighborhood needs is more market-rate development. A local homeowner, Zach Abel, has organized neighbors against the Zapata Apartments and filed suit to stop development.

WBEZ did a radio report that attracted quite a flurry of rants and rationales in its comments section. John McCarron wrote a piece for the New Communities Program, which supports the project, about "the risk and rancor that goes with brick-and-mortar community development in these uncertain times." And backers of the project have just launched a new web site,, where they offer details of the development and encourage readers to sign and distribute petitions.

Seems to me that building affordable housing makes a lot more sense right now than adding more condos to an over-saturated market, but maybe I just don't get it. What do you think?

Friday, March 26, 2010

Humboldt Park Takes Lead Role on Tech

Leaders in Humboldt Park are serious about bringing a digital culture to their community.

One of five designated "Smart Communities" in Chicago – neighborhoods that just yesterday were awarded a $7 million federal grant for broadband adoption – Humboldt Park put together the video below to pitch for another special project, the Google Fiber initiative that will bring ultra-fast internet speeds to one or more U.S. communities.

Both projects are being done in collaboration with the City of Chicago Department of Innovation and Technology. Learn more about the Humboldt Park tech culture here. And read about Chicago's Google Fiber application here.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

¡La Villita Cuenta! Video Pitches the 2010 Count

Little Village is serious about capturing all the public money it can. With a series of interviews of local leaders, it makes the case to residents that every person counted will make a big difference in how much money is allocated locally -- the equivalent over 10 years of another top-notch facility like Little Village Lawndale High School.

The leaders repeatedly stress that Census data is completely confidential and that it is not shared with any other government agency (such as immigration, a big reason that some residents haven't filled out the forms in the past). One priest even suggests that not being counted is a "social sin, a sin of omission."

It's in Spanish with English subtitles, and was produced by Enlace Chicago's Dahriian Espinoza, with help from Jaime de Leon. Check it out.

Monday, March 1, 2010

The How and Why of Comprehensive Development

How does comprehensive community development actually get done? What's involved and how long does it take? How do politics, funding, and local rivalries factor in?

Those questions and others will be the focus of a new web site launched Friday by the Institute for Comprehensive Community Development. A brand-new venture of the Local Initiatives Support Corporation, the Institute is targeted to community development practitioners, researchers, government officials, funders and others interested in the comprehensive approach to community building. From the web site's About Us section:

The Institute for Comprehensive Community Development was established to advance the field of comprehensive community development and the positive impact it has in urban and rural communities across the country. We do this by:
  • Building the capacity of community development practitioners;
  • Providing on-site support and technical assistance to comprehensive community development initiatives in cities across the U.S.;
  • Applying lessons learned through research and performance evaluation to continually improve on-going comprehensive community development initiatives and to develop new initiatives;
  • Supporting the development of public policies which integrate government programs in order to effectively facilitate and support comprehensive community development;
  • Communicating broadly the best there is in practice and theory in the field of community development.

The Institute is a place where the community development field can take what it learns from practice and use it as a base from which to provide training, to promote research in comprehensive community development, and to investigate the public policies that would best advance this work locally and nationally. The Institute is the locus where practice and theory meet, and where experimentation and innovation – grounded in real-world experience – flourish.

There are opinion pieces, as well, plus case studies and a library that will build over time. If you're part of the action, check it out, add information about your organization, and tell others what you're up to.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Big Boosts Coming for Neighborhood Small & Micro Biz

In last night's State of the Union address, President Barack Obama pledged $30 billion in Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) funds to community banks for small business loans.

Chicago is ahead of the curve on this one, to a smaller tune. Last November, City Treasurer Stephanie Neely announced the city would devote $5 million of Skyway lease funds to a loan fund for microenterprises--business with five employees or fewer. Accion Chicago has already received $750,000 and is making loans between $10,000 and $25,000 to qualifying businesses. You can watch her talk about it here.

According to the Association for Enterprise Opportunity, a trade association supporting microbusinesses, these tiny enterprises generate 17 percent of the jobs in Cook County. Good things come in small packages, and it's good to see local and national government stepping up to support them as they spur economic recovery.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

School-Community Partnerships for Extended Learning

Catalyst Chicago just published a great set of stories on how Chicago might extend its abysmally short school day and year. The lead story shows how Marquette Elementary extended the day for its middle school students by one hour with money from Elev8.

To add real time to the system would require a generous infusion of cash. District officials and local nonprofits like the Academy for Urban School Leadership are pinning their hopes on the federal Race to the Top and Investing in Innovation grants as possible sources of money to extend learning time across the system.

At today's Catalyst/BPI policy luncheon, a city official made the case that out-of-school time programs will be essential however the effort to extend learning proceeds. "I don't think we're going to extend the school day or school year any time soon, given our budget constraints," said Mary Ellen Caron, Commissioner of the Chicago Department of Family and Support Services. "Even if we do [extend school time], we still need to provide robust out-of-school time programming."

This is where community partners come in. Today's lunch featured the dynamic duo of Lila Leff, executive director of the Umoja Student Development Corporation, and Sean Stallings, until recently the principal of Manley HIgh School. Umoja has long partnered with Manley, and under Stallings' leadership the partnership went deeper and pushed the school in a positive direction. Both of them talked turkey about the challenges schools and outside partners face in working together--the importance of shared vision and hard conversations to make sure both parties are on the same page. Both said if the meeting of minds isn't there, you've got to walk away, even when that is hard.

"As a school person, we're inundated with programs. They're all over the place," said Stallings. School leaders have to be willing to weed out the ones that don't fit the vision, and support the ones that fit well, including pushing staff to get on board with the partnership.

From the nonprofit community side, "being a critical friend is really important," Leff emphasized. "At every place we operate, we operate as a thought partner with the school." Partnerships may start off with everyone thinking they are on the same page, but as the real work begins "the conversation gets messy, louder, a little hostile sometimes. We've learned to say 'let's have the tough conversations.'" As it has expanded its partnerships with more schools, Umoja has also learned to judge when it can help a principal move a faculty in the direction of supporting youth development and promoting youth voice, and when it can't. "We try to help the principal think like a community organizer about the school." When that's not possible, Umoja pulls out--and has done so "on occasions that almost fill one hand." Leff acknowledged.

During questions and answers, someone asked whether there's training for schools and community groups to partner successfully? "No," said Leff. "It has really been a process of inventing it," and talking with others involved in the work. "It is an art and a science. Both these roles need to be honored."

On a more hopeful note, Suzanne Armato of the Federation for Community Schools said her group offers a two-day training on this topic. For more information, check out the Federation here.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Stimulus, Neighborhoods and Schools

A couple of recent news items from the Chicago Public schools related to stimulus spending have caught my attention. First, today's hot CPS story is the announcement of details about the district's $30 million, stimulus-funded plan to reduce youth violence. WBEZ's Linda Lutton did a good overall piece on it, which you can read or listen to here. Back in September when the plan was first announced, Englewood pastors loudly complained about a Philadelphia-based agency taking on the task of, and the pay for, working with at-risk youth. For the next five months, the district's chief executive officer, Ron Huberman, zipped his lip about the plan.

According to the Catalyst Notebook blog, Huberman unzipped his lip at a press conference at Englewood's Robeson High School yesterday just enough to let us know that the work with high-risk youth will now be split among community agencies, plus the Philadelphia group, Youth Advocate Programs. Looks to me like the pastors' voices were heard. The Philadelphia group will be paid to work with the 250 highest-risk students, while community agencies will be hired to work with another 2000 students. The two efforts will eat up $10 million, or one-third of the total funds available. Another $2 million will go toward community patrols to ensure students have safe passage to and from school, like the effort Huberman helped kickstart last March in Little Village, which I wrote about here.

I certainly hope this will be an opportunity for NCP neighborhoods with strong antiviolence work in place, like Little Village and Auburn Gresham, to put more gas in their tanks, as well as helping other neighborhoods plant new efforts or help their seedling projects grow.

Second, last week Mayor Daley and the district announced significant new bonds for school construction made possible through stimulus. According to the press release, CPS used approximately $22 million for emergency repairs at Bond, Caldwell, Ebinger, Harlan, Gallistel, Schneider, Sumner and Yale schools, plus $7 million to renovate four CPS turnaround schools: Bethune, Dulles, Fenger, and Johnson. While urgent repairs are key in an underfunded system with decades of deferred maintenance, and turning around a school ought to include needed repairs, only one of these schools (Ebinger) is on the heavily overcrowded Northwest Side. And none of the early spending addresses the long-neglected problem of overcrowded schools on the Southwest Side. (Full disclosure: I'm a Southwest Sider, though I don't live in the bull's-eye of the overcrowding zone.) Back in 2005 a colleague and I analyzed where the kids were and where CPS capital dollars went; the numbers didn't match up well. You can read our analysis here.

Back then, the district cried poor, saying there was no money left to address overcrowding. Well, there's new money now. Unfortunately, there's a lot of new faces in district leadership, which means new priorities and lost institutional memory. Let's hope some of it gets spent this time on longstanding overcrowding in places like Chicago Lawn, Gage Park and Brighton Park. Jimmy Dispensa (head of demographics for CPS), can you put a bug in Ron's ear on this?