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As It Turns 18, CNDA Explores Big Ideas

Technology and cities of the future were major themes at the 18th annual Chicago Neighborhood Development Awards, where architects, community organizations, philanthropists and others were honored for their contributions to the fabric of urban Chicago life.

The event on February 28 at the Chicago Hilton & Towers was distinguished by presentations from a new mayor, a new executive director of LISC Chicago (which organizes the awards) and a raft of new ideas from panelists and honorees that addressed the evening’s theme of “Building the 21st Century City.”

"Chicago has all the ingredients" to succeed in the 21st century, said Wim Elfrink, executive vice-president and chief globalization officer of Cisco. "But you must embrace competition, embrace technology and think outside the box.”

Eric Young Smith

Wim Elfrink, executive vice-president and chief globalization officer of Cisco, set the tone by discussing how city design will change as more and more people become connected to the Internet and work remotely.

“The city as a place to work is going to fundamentally change … you’ll work from home, you’ll work from ‘smart’ working centers,” said Elfrink, who was chairman of the awards ceremony. “Technology can enable smart, connected new developments. … The future of competition is going to be between cities and will require public-private partnerships that are thinking in new ecosystems.

“To succeed, you need cooperation, collaboration and to look at problems and opportunities from a 360-degree point of view,” Elfrink added. “Chicago has all the ingredients. … But you must embrace competition, embrace technology and think outside the box.”

For Mayor Rahm Emanuel, it was his first appearance before a CNDA audience. “This is your 18th year, and 18 in the Jewish faith means life,” he said. “And I cannot think of a better year to come before you for the first time as mayor, and speak to you. For it is life that you give to our city, our neighborhoods and our communities.”

The “you” Emanuel referred to was the audience of more than 1,500 people from neighborhood groups, philanthropies, financial institutions, corporations, government offices and other organizations who are typically involved in the complicated business of community development. The awards ceremony is one of the few times they’re all in the same place at the same time.

New Mayor Rahm Emanuel made his first CNDA appearance on the day he announced corporate partnerships with five new tech-oriented high schools across the city.

Eric Young Smith

The evening’s theme evoked moving forward into the future through innovations, said Susana Vasquez, LISC Chicago’s executive director. “We can and must move forward from being the city of big shoulders to the city of big ideas.”

The 18th annual CNDA also marked the 15th anniversary of the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Awards for Architectural Excellence in Community Design, Vasquez added, which “affirm the difference that good design makes in people’s lives.”

Vasquez presented the Richard M. Daley Friend of the Neighborhoods Award to Sunny Fischer, executive director of The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation, who helped design the Driehaus awards to recognize great architecture. “We would be well-served to follow the example of leadership of the woman we honor tonight,” said Vasquez. “Sunny is not only aptly named but a thoughtful advocate for people and neighborhoods.”

Fischer, who co-founded the Sophia Fund, Chicago Foundation for Women and Neighborhood Writing Alliance, shared a few thoughts. “In adversity, we know that there is possibility,” she said. “Just as arts can revitalize a neighborhood, so can design. It is in all of our economic and emotional self-interest to live in beauty.”

Panel of Big Ideas
The panelists who shared ideas at a roundtable prior to the awards ceremony did plenty of thinking outside the box, as suggested by Elfrink, as they presented their “5 Big Ideas for the 21st Century,” then listened to audience members share some of theirs.

Artist and cultural planner Theaster Gates of the University of Chicago wants leaders and citizens to think about how public spaces and private buildings can be reused. “Poor places may need imagination to rescue them,” he said. “Artists have the capacity to see in ways that other people don’t. We could spend a lot of time leveraging these spaces and doing things that the city might think would be impossible.”

Panelists (clockwise from top left) Alicia Gonzalez, Theaster Gates, Melissa Harris and Daniel X. O'Neil shared their "big ideas" for Chicago's future.

Eric Young Smith

Daniel X. O’Neil, executive director of the Smart Chicago Collaborative, hopes the city of Chicago gets beyond its 68 percent broadband adoption rate to something closer to 100 percent—“as ubiquitous as the power grid,” he said. He agreed that programs like the federal Broadband Technology Opportunity Program have helped fill in some gaps.

O’Neil would also like to see “total information awareness” in which citizens don’t have to mine too deep to find out anything they would like about government – and one another. “I’ve heard that described as Big Brother,” he said. “I’m unmoved.” With that, O’Neil thinks would come “hyper accountability,” much as a player on a baseball team feels when the ball is pitched or hit toward him. “There’s value in everyone looking at you,” he said.

Alicia Gonzalez, executive director of Chicago Run, which has brought fitness programs to 12,000 public school students, would like to see expanded opportunities for youth who live in areas where rampant violence discourages exercising outdoors. “This is a fitness desert,” she said of low- to moderate-income neighborhoods. “The fitness desert is a leading cause of why obesity rates are higher.”

Running programs let children be children again, Gonzalez said, giving them release from tension and allowing them to learn to play together. “Our children have never learned to play together because they are stuck inside all day,” she said. “Kids are running 27 times around a gym [instead of outside] because their schools are on lockdown. But when they start running outside, the gangs will let them do it because there is a respect there.”

Chicago Tribune reporter Melissa Harris foresees a future in which innovative companies like the Tesco grocery store in South Korea – which has virtual stores inside subway stations from which shoppers can have foods delivered by scanning items into their smart phones – gain market share in the U.S.

Prominent historian and scholar Timuel Black urged a new generation of neighborhood revitalizers to remember one of the oldest vehicles for organizing: faith-based institutions.

Eric Young Smith

“Retail 100 or 200 years from now is going to be taken completely out of stores,” she predicted. “I like your tie, I click it, I get your tie.” Or Chicago Tribune headlines are displayed on the Red Line “el,” and one can get the story e-mailed for 10 cents by clicking on the headline.

Audience member Timuel Black, 93 years young and a prominent historian and scholar, echoed the timeless value of organizing around religious institutions in neighborhoods given their captive audience. “You can start everything we’ve heard about today,” he said.

The Awardees
In addition to the Friend of the Neighborhoods Award presented to Fischer, the CNDA ceremony recognized nine other people and organizations for their outstanding work in Chicago’s neighborhoods, including three Dreihaus winners.

Enlace Chicago Violence Prevention received The Chicago Community Trust Outstanding Community Strategy of the Year Award for its work in the Little Village community that’s catalyzed the creation of safety networks, community watch and safe passage programs, and partnered with gang intervention organizations to provide meaningful alternatives for young people. “The only way to solve these issues in our neighborhood is to be a good partner and facilitator,” said Michael Rodriguez, executive director of Enlace, a lead agency in LISC Chicago's New Communities Program. “To be quite honest, we still have our work cut out for us.”

Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago received The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Award for Outstanding Non-Profit Real Estate Project—separate from the foundation’s architectural excellence awards—for Roseland Place, a five-story, 60-unit senior apartment building on a two-block former brownfield site at South Michigan Avenue and 104th Street. The LEED-certified facility provides education, social services and recreational opportunities. “In this housing market, we must all see things with a new vision – and take action,” said executive director Ed Jacob.

Michael Rodriguez, executive director of Enlace Chicago, accepts his organization's award for Outstanding Community Strategy of the Year.

Eric Young Smith

Mercy Housing Lakefront received The Polk Bros. Foundation Affordable Rental Housing Preservation Award for the renovation of the Harold Washington Apartments, a long-term supportive housing facility that’s gained a new laundry room, computer lab and elevator, with 69 units that now have private bathrooms, sitting rooms and kitchens.

Testa Properties LLC received The Outstanding For-Profit Neighborhood Real Estate Project Award for the Testa Produce Distribution Facility, a 91,000-square-foot LEED Platinum facility that boasts a 750-kilowatt wind turbine that provides 30 percent of its energy needs, a 45,650-square-foot vegetated roof, solar water heaters, LED lighting and plug-in charging stations for electric vehicles. “I’d like to thank the Academy,” joked president Peter Testa, two nights after the Academy Awards. “We don’t usually get awards in the produce business,” he added.

North Lawndale Employment Network received the Special Recognition Award for its work in helping to reintegrate ex-offenders into the job market through the U-Turn Permitted program, as well as the Sweet Beginnings urban fee farm and honey processing business that trains landscapes, beekeepers and food processors.

Sol Flores, executive director of La Casa Norte, received The PrivateBank Norman Bobins Leadership Award for her decade of work in leading the organization she helped to found for youth and families who are either homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. “What keeps me energized is that it’s steeped in my values,” said Flores, whose family provided haven for more than 200 foster children. “La Casa Norte dreams of a world where all people have dignity and communities thrive.”

Three organizations received Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Awards for Architectural Excellence in Community Design: John Ronan Architects received third place for Gary Comer College Prep, Wheeler Kearns Architects received second place for Inspiration Kitchens-Garfield Park and Landon Bone Baker Architects received first place for the Roseland Senior Campus.

Conversation and cocktails flowed well into the evening at the Chicago Hilton & Towers.

Eric Young Smith

Gary Comer College Prep is notable for its colored façade, large windows and elegant skylights that allow abundant light into the facility, along with its cloistered courtyard that provides a quiet gathering space and green roof that helps conserve energy. John Ronan said Comer’s “dream for Grand Crossing is very much alive today.”

Inspiration Kitchens-Garfield Park, a social entrepreneurship business that trains the homeless and others in need in both the restaurant business and employment skills more generally, is a testament to adaptive re-use, in this case of a blighted, windowless manufacturing building transformed into a naturally bright, warm, inviting space to enjoy a delicious meal. “The results are really tangible,” said Larry Kearns, principal at Wheeler Kearns. “The food is exceptional.”

The Roseland Senior Campus includes the 60-unit building run through NHS Chicago, an intergenerational “Grandfamily” building, and a garden and play space for the grandchildren that nurture community and promote senior wellness. Landon Bone principal Jeff Bone said the senior campus represents a culmination of developments on that corner.

See descriptions and videos about award winners.

-- John McCarron and Patrick Barry contributed to this LISC scribe pool report

Posted in Civic Tech

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