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'No small plans' as 500 attend NCP rollout

A century ago, legendary city planner Daniel Burnham set a high standard in Chicago with the dictum: “Make no small plans. They have no magic to stir men’s blood.”

On May 18, more than 500 people – including Mayor Daley, 11 aldermen and other city leaders -- celebrated the release of Quality-of-Life Plans for the 14 neighborhoods in LISC/Chicago’s New Communities Program, neighborhoods that probably could not make small plans if they tried.

Photo: Juan Francisco Hernandez

Raul Raymundo of The Resurrection Project (left) explains some of the projects in that community's plans.

“Today, we write a new chapter in Chicago’s history,” said Earnest Gates, NCP director for the Near West Side Community Development Corp., whose 2002 community plan has already changed the West Haven neighborhood and will soon bring a new grocery store to the corner of Madison and Western.

Burnham’s work cleared up the “ugliness and confusion” that resulted from a lack of planning, Gates told those crushed into a ballroom at the Hilton Chicago for NCP’s First Annual Leadership Assembly: “This morning, we celebrate the Burnham in each of us.”

Daley: “outside the box”

Mayor Daley praised the efforts of the community coalitions, which produced plans in four neighborhoods between 2000 and 2003 and 10 more plans in the past two years. Daley promised the city would take a hard look at what the neighborhoods created.

Photo: Juan Francisco Hernandez

Humboldt Park representatives presented their plan to Mayor Richard M. Daley and received a commemorative plaque. From left, Eliud Medina, Mayor Daley, Joy Aruguete and MacArthur Foundation President Jonathan Fanton.

“All of us will review it, seek to implement it, take the highest priorities, take your suggestions,” said Daley, who was joined by Police Supt. Philip Cline, Housing Commissioner Jack Markowski, Planning Commissioner Denise Casalino, Chicago Housing Authority CEO Terry Peterson and other city officials.

“One size doesn’t fit all,” Daley said. “The creativity of a community, of one’s mind, works much better. It isn’t from a consultant who sits downtown and tells us what to do. It’s from people like yourselves.”

While many issues were raised through NCP planning, Daley said education stands out as most important. “I can build anything you want, but if we don’t rebuild this public school system and tell the adults to take responsibility, it’s all for naught,” he said. “If we don’t think outside the box, we will fail another generation. . . . That’s what the New Communities Program is all about: thinking outside the box.”

Daley presented awards and posed for pictures with NCP leaders from the 14 neighborhoods while former NCP Director Amanda Carney read off highlights from their plans, which were produced with primary funding from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. “Each community laid out a specific set of strategies to achieve their goals,” she said.

Key projects

Auburn-Gresham, for example, seeks to revive the 79th Street business district. Englewood will target job preparation and economic development. Humboldt Park and Logan Square, working separately and possibly in tandem, will seek to preserve affordable housing. Pilsen plans to build La Casa, a dormitory for college students. Woodlawn aims to coordinate and enhance youth programs.

Photo: Juan Francisco Hernandez

North Lawndale created a Monopoly board to reflect local landmarks and project ideas. Above, Jonathan Fanton of the MacArthur Foundation, Harrison Steans of the Steans Family Foundation and Stanley Merriwether of Lawndale Christian Development Corporation.

Displays ringing the room gave attendees a chance to check out the plans in detail as they munched on muffins and fruit. Groups laid out press clippings, photos, videos and Powerpoint presentations on laptops, along with illustrated maps of “key projects” on easels. East Garfield Park displayed a giant fruit-and-vegetable basket to symbolize its emphasis on personal health and environmental initiatives; South Chicago put out copies of the newspaper it began, the Southeast Chicago Observer; Lawndale created its own “Monopoly” board to describe the neighborhood and its aspirations.

“I’ve shared a glimpse of your dreams for the future,” said MacArthur Foundation President Jonathan Fanton. “Let us bear witness today to translate these plans into reality. . . . Better incomes, higher graduation rates – these will be the markers of our work together.”

The NCP stretch

Welcoming the “incredible turnout” from the neighborhoods, City Hall, corporate boardrooms and foundations, LISC/Chicago’s Senior Program Director Andy Mooney encouraged everyone to stand up and take a morning stretch.

“That’s what NCP is all about – stretching our vision, stretching our boundaries, stretching our faith in ourselves. Boy, have you stretched,” he said. “It takes my breath away. Thousands have come together to plan for a common future and to accept responsibility for that future.”

Photo: Patrick Barry

Spirits were high, as evidenced here by the laughter of Gwen Griffin, Eunita Rushing and Lisa Roberts from the Garfield Park Conservatory Alliance.

Gates predicted that the NCP efforts will bring results, based on the experience of the three pilot New Communities Initiative (NCI) neighborhoods that began the process in 1998. “The track record now exists. The outcomes can be measured,” he said. “Can these plans be brought to life? The answer is a resounding, ‘Yes.’

“If you can conceive it, you can achieve it,” Gates added. “Terry Peterson (CEO) of the Chicago Housing Authority isn’t the only one with a plan for transformation. These plans can and will transform communities.”

One of the other pilot neighborhoods, South Chicago, created not only a local newspaper but a Job Resource Center and a Center for Working Families, said Lynne Cunningham, president and CEO of the Southeast Chicago Development Commission. “What did we learn?” Among other things, “there are partners with whom we can realize our potential.”

Raul Raymundo, executive director of The Resurrection Project, closed the event by encouraging the mayor’s staff and other city leaders to stay in touch with the NCP efforts. “As we celebrate these accomplishments, we know this is not the end, it’s the beginning,” he said. “Generations of Chicagoans will be positively impacted by the transformations that will occur as a result of these plans. I look forward to next year, boasting and toasting our accomplishments.”

The full Quality-of-Life Plans and summaries are available for download. Click here.

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