The Smart Communities program works to ensure digital access for children and families, businesses, agencies and other institutions in five New Communities Program neighborhoods.
A 2009 study showed many Chicago residents had not yet embraced broadband and digital technology due to concerns about cost, complexity, or relevance to their daily lives. Beyond providing hardware, software and training, Smart Communities aims to build a “culture of digital excellence” that will require outreach, education, and the application of 20th Century community organizing to 21st Century technology.
Built on the existing NCP platform of interconnected agencies, Smart Communities is run on the ground by NCP lead agencies The Resurrection Project (in Pilsen), Bickerdike Redevelopment Corp. (in Humboldt Park), and, through a cooperative arrangement, by Teamwork Englewood, Greater Auburn-Gresham Development Corp., and the Greater Southwest Development Corp. and Southwest Organizing Project (in Englewood, Auburn Gresham and Chicago Lawn, respectively). See the Smart Communities plans for Humboldt Park, Pilsen and the Southwest Smart Communities Partners.
The three “Smart Community Plans” tie into an overarching master plan centered on five strategies: build awareness, expand digital education and training, improve access to technology, generate local content about neighborhood news and resources, and help grow existing businesses and attract new ones.
To reach those goals, Smart Communities provides coordinated programming and services:
The program already has funded “early action projects” including the installation of approximately 30 HP “Touch Smart” Kiosks to provide public Internet access in all five neighborhoods, a summer youth project in Englewood, Auburn Gresham and Chicago Lawn to contribute to a pending community “portal” site, and new portals in Pilsen, Humboldt Park, Englewood, Auburn Gresham and Chicago Lawn.
Other key projects to come include a marketing campaign to boost adoption, creation of FamilyNet Centers for training and access, expansion of broadband at public computing sites, community portals for the remaining communities, expansion of youth programs in schools and at libraries, and the establishment of Business Resource Centers that build capacity.
The Smart Communities program is part of the City of Chicago’s Digital Excellence Initiative. It is administrated by LISC Chicago and managed by nonprofit organizations in each neighborhood. The program is funded primarily by the federal Broadband Technology Opportunity Program; philanthropic and business partners have also provided supplemental support. This combination of federal resources, municipal and intermediary support, and local expertise is a key part of Smart Communities’ success.
Visit the Smart Communities Chicago Facebook page and the Smart Communities web site.