No Small Plans on the Southwest Side
In 2005, at the start of the LISC Chicago New Communities Network, Auburn Gresham, Chicago Lawn and Englewood each created a community-led Quality-of-Life Plan to chart a course for their neighborhood’s future. Over the years, a lot has changed in these three Southwest Side neighborhoods.
Some of those changes have been guided by or even are a direct result of the plans. School-based health centers opened through the Elev8 program in Chicago Lawn and Auburn Gresham, and the latter leveraged the work into a targeted education initiative, Auburn Gresham GOLD.
Two veterans’ housing projects and one of the largest recent new single-family home developments in Chicago were built in Auburn Gresham. Englewood Square, a new retail development anchored by a Whole Foods, has replaced a massive vacant lot at the corner of 63rd and Halsted in Englewood. More than $50 million has been invested in Chicago Lawn over the past 10 years, including more than $11 million to rehabilitate vacant housing.
Englewood Square, a new shopping center at 63rd and Halsted streets, had its roots in Englewood's 2005 Quality-of-Life Plan.
Other changes have been outside the communities’ control. The pop of the real estate bubble and subsequent foreclosure crisis. A job market that keeps getting tougher for the working class. Change at Chicago Public Schools. A surge in violence on the streets.
And so, near the end of 2015, with all these changes in mind, LISC and community-based lead agencies in each of the three neighborhoods launched a new round of Quality-of-Life planning.
“LISC has been committed to these communities for the last 36 years and has supported capacity building in the neighborhood organizations, community planning, special programs and real estate lending,” said Meghan Harte, LISC Chicago’s executive director. “In that work, Quality-of-Life Plans are a powerful way to bring together a neighborhood, come to agreement on clear goals and strategies, and create the energy to implement.”
This month, all three Quality-of-Life Plans were finalized and published, the result of thousands of residents, community groups, nonprofits, local businesses, faith-based organizations and others dreaming, debating, collaborating and considering what their neighborhood needs to thrive.
For its new Quality-of-Life planning process, Perry Gunn, executive director of Teamwork Englewood, helped enlist neighborhood residents and others who in the past had not been engaged in planning work. "They learned how to head a meeting, how to structure the discussion," said Gunn, pictured above in the Starbucks at Englewood Square. "That's capacity building for our neighborhood, that's leadership development that will continue."
The approach to creating the plans has changed in some ways from last time, in part because with more than a decade of experience using the plans as a tool to improve their communities, the agencies leading the work have changed, too.
“These neighborhoods have done plans before, so we didn’t need the same playbook,” said Jake Ament, who helped coordinate the final plans from LISC. “We’ve moved to where we work with and provide our partners with the tools to drive more of the process themselves.”
Because each neighborhood is different, each sets its own path in how it approaches creating its plan. Auburn Gresham GOLD had caught the attention of United Way, for example, and so the lead agency, the Greater Auburn-Gresham Development Corporation (GAGDC), folded its partnership around that issue into the neighborhood’s Quality-of-Life planning.
In Englewood, which made it a priority to bring in even more local voices to the Quality-of-Life planning process this time around, LISC’s training in facilitation helped residents who had not been outspoken neighborhood advocates in the past become effective chairs for the committees that built the strategies and programs for each issue area.
An early action project in Englewood's new plan was a business competition for local entrepreneurs that brought out three dozen companies to compete for $10,000 in prizes from Whole Foods Market.
“They learned how to head a meeting, how to structure the discussion,” said Perry Gunn, the executive director of lead agency Teamwork Englewood. “That’s capacity building for our neighborhood, that’s leadership development that will continue. People are stepping up and appointing themselves to be champions of issues in our community. They raised their hands and said, ‘I’ll take this issue moving forward.’”
In terms of what the three plans cover, there are definite similarities, as you would expect from three contiguous neighborhoods on the Southwest Side. The titles and specific programs differ, but each plan has a focus on youth and education, health, housing, jobs, economic development and community safety.
There are, however, some differences. Auburn Gresham set strategies around senior services to serve a large and active local population. Chicago Lawn’s plan, titled Chicago Southwest because it again encompasses West Lawn, Gage Park, West Elsdon and now parts of Ashburn, included strategies around leadership development and immigration. “Every community does it a little bit differently,” Ament said. “And we encouraged that even more this time.”
The LISC model for Quality-of-Life planning process includes early action projects – small-scale initiatives undertaken as the plan is being created that energize the community and illustrate what can be accomplished by working together. In Englewood last year, the early action projects did all that and more.
A business competition for Englewood entrepreneurs brought out three dozen local companies to compete for a $10,000 prize from Whole Foods Market. Drumming circles formed to play on city streets in an effort to fight against violence. More than 120 local nonprofits banded together around Giving Tuesday in November, all agreeing to raise money for Quality-of-Life Plan projects, rather than their own organizations.
Nicole Wheatly and Carlos Nelson, of the Greater Auburn-Gresham Development Corporation, survey properties on West 79th Street, which the new plan has identified as a corridor for potential businesses. "People want to see change," said Wheatly, the project manager for GAGDC's Quality-of-Life planning process, "and they want to be part of it."
Englewood’s Quality-of-Life Plan, which was supported by the McCormick Foundation as the lead funder, includes a proposed program for health care navigators that can help fill service gaps in the neighborhood, the creation of a housing resource center for residents, and a multi-partner program to coordinate tutors, afterschool programs and other resources to raise the reading levels of elementary school kids by the third grade.
Excitement is also high for a newly formed Design and Development Community Advisory Board, which will serve as a voice for residents on the size, purpose and style of new buildings in the neighborhood’s increasingly hot local housing and commercial market. Using a model from the Near North community, the board will review proposed new developments against a set of community-approved design standards.
“We want to change the dynamic with investors. In this community, we’ve always been told what we’re going to get. This will let us tell developers what we need,” said Rosalind Moore, the director of programs at Teamwork Englewood, adding that all five aldermen who represent parts of Englewood have already signaled their support.
To get a good idea of the momentum built in Auburn Gresham for its Quality-of-Life Plan, you just needed to be at the community meeting when the plan was released last October.
“There were more than 400 people in the room, in a space that was not built for that kind of numbers,” said Nicole Wheatly, the project manager for Auburn Gresham’s Quality-of-Life Plan process. “People want to see change, and they want to be a part of it.”
Chicago Southwest's new plan, which covers Chicago Lawn, West Lawn, Gage Park, West Elsdon and parts of Ashburn, puts a big emphasis on jobs, which the neighborhoods' industrial base can to some extent support.
To bring in a lot more people, GAGDC created the “Your Voice Matters” campaign. For a year the team made a pitch for participation under their ubiquitous orange pop-up tent at block parties, the enormous annual 79th Street Renaissance Festival and other public events. They went block by block to knock on doors, asked folks who were involved to make calls to bring in their friends, posted reminders on the GAGDC website and social media, and distributed flyers and newsletters.
“This time, we really wanted to hear the voices of the people on the street and in the churches – the folks who hadn’t been engaged before,” said Carlos Nelson, GAGDC’s executive director.
It worked. More than 1,500 residents gave input to the Quality-of-Life Plan’s eight task forces, and Nelson said that the group expanded the geographic reach as well, into Washington Heights, Greater Grand Crossing and Chatham.
He points to elements of the plan that are a result of the wider reach. The economic development section includes programs to support local black-owned businesses, for example, and there are strategies to strengthen the local African American middle-class, so more people can afford to buy and maintain the area’s iconic brick bungalow housing stock.
Education was also a major focus for the Chicago Southwest plan, the process of which was led by the Southwest Organizing Project. “This time around with the Quality-of-Life planning, we had the opportunity as a community to really explore across all issue areas,” said David McDowell, SWOP’s senior organizer.
“There was a social justice angle to what we heard,” Nelson said. “We talked about equality and issues around wealth, educational opportunities and access to affordable housing. We had discussions about living-wage jobs and how not enough are accessible in our community, and why is that? And, we talked about how to mobilize ourselves to make a difference.”
After three months of the Quality-of-Life planning for Chicago Lawn and surrounding communities last year, a light bulb went off for the planning team, led by the Southwest Organizing Project (SWOP).
Because over the last few years the community has created plans dedicated to specific issues like health and foreclosures – and because the impact of the issues overlapped in so many ways – it made more sense to use the Quality-of-Life Plan to review challenges and strategies with a comprehensive, cross-sector lens, rather than in committees divided by topic.
“This time around with the Quality-of-Life planning, we had the opportunity as a community to really explore across all issue areas,” said David McDowell, SWOP’s senior organizer.
Auburn Gresham's plan includes steps to strengthen the local African American middle-class so more people can afford to buy and maintain the area’s brick bungalows and two-flats.
The goal of finding new homeowners for foreclosed properties in the neighborhood is more effective when strong local schools serve as a draw, he explained. Anti-violence work is more likely to gain traction when there are fewer vacant houses on the block and more children engaged at school. When families have stable housing and kids feel safe on the streets, those students do better in class.
The attention to anti-violence and education issues also tied directly to a redirected focus in the 2017 plan on jobs. Still recovering from the loss of living-wage jobs during the recession, Chicago Southwest needs more options for employment, particularly for youth, undocumented families and individuals returning from incarceration – all of whom have a particularly hard time finding a job.
“There’s a conversation about what it takes to help businesses thrive, but we thought in addition to that, there is a different question about how to help those three specific populations,” McDowell said.
In the final plan, one section is dedicated to jobs, including projects to create a pipeline of opportunity between school and work and new alliances forged between African American and Latino leaders and employers. Another section is focused on economic and retail development, with plans for supporting existing businesses and reviving commercial corridors.
Englewood's plan features a Design and Development Community Advisory Board, which will serve as a voice for residents on the size, purpose and style of new buildings in the neighborhood. “We want to change the dynamic with investors," said Rosalind Moore, right, the director of programs at Teamwork Englewood. "In this community, we’ve always been told what we’re going to get. This will let us tell developers what we need."
Onward to implementation
There is no single moment when a community’s Quality-of-Life planning ends and implementing programs to meet its goals begins. With early action projects already running and a process designed to create enthusiasm and partnerships, implementation has already started.
Certainly, however, the plans’ release is an opportunity to change gears. In Englewood and Auburn Gresham, meetings are shifting from planning to doing, with committees focused on spearheading projects and identifying funders and supporters. In Chicago Southwest, SWOP staff and partners have new ideas for their standing programs – and are keeping their eyes open for other ways to advance the plan’s proposals.
One of the biggest new opportunities to arise from creating these Quality-of-Life Plans is the Southwest Corridor Collaborative, a targeted and place-based approach to economic development in the three communities. Announced in November by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, LISC and the local partners, the Southwest Corridor Collaborative is a $50 million investment in the local economy focused on developing living-wage jobs with lending for investments in real estate and local neighborhood businesses.
During the process, as all three neighborhoods were aiming to increase the number of available jobs, it became apparent that in addition to programs at the neighborhood level, a collaborative economic development approach could have an impact that was big enough to stretch across the Southwest Side.
One of the biggest new opportunities to arise from creating these Quality-of-Life Plans is the Southwest Corridor Collaborative, a targeted and place-based approach to economic development in the three communities. It's a $50 million investment in the local economy focused on developing living-wage jobs with lending for investments in real estate and local neighborhood businesses. SWOP's Jeff Bartow, right, models the collaborative's T-shirt
“This is a tried-and-true LISC process – see a common need and see an opportunity to create something that can address it, then go back to the neighborhoods and say, ‘What do you think of this?’ That’s what happened with Elev8, Smart Communities and Financial Opportunity Centers,” Ament said.
“For us, the Southwest Corridor Collaborative is really implementation of the strategies that focus on jobs and economic development in our Quality-of-Life Plan. It can be a catalytic program for our commercial corridors,” Nelson said.
Currently, Nelson and his team are working hard to bring in other resources as well. To save a terra-cotta gem of a building at 839 W. 79th St., GAGDC is working to convert the former furniture store from 1925 into a healthy lifestyle hub, supporting more than 100 living-wage jobs in the community.
“When I’m writing to explore support for the building from funders and investors,” Nelson said. “I always say, ‘This project is informed by our Quality-of-Life Plan.’”
Even as the Southwest Side plans are printed and complete, a new round of Quality-of-Life planning is being launched in three West Side communities: Hermosa/West Logan Square, North Lawndale and Austin. Several new partners and geographies are involved in the 2017 cohort, so the process will be similar but distinct from the Southwest Side cohort.
“These three new plans are part of LISC’s commitment to continue supporting local planning and building strong relationships and collaborative processes over the next three years,” Ament said. “Part of what makes Quality-of-Life planning so effective is that no matter where the neighborhood is coming from, it allows the residents and local organizations to shape where they want to go.”
Check out the latest Quality-of-Life Plans:
Englewood Quality-of-Life Plan
For more information, contact Taryn Roch at (312) 422-9554 or email@example.com
Auburn Gresham Quality-of-Life Plan
For more information, contact Tameeka Christian at (312) 422-9564 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Chicago Southwest Quality-of-Life Plan
For more information, contact Jake Ament at (312) 422-9573 or email@example.com
Posted in Auburn Gresham, Chicago Lawn, Englewood