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Who benefits from neighborhood tours? Everyone.

Showing off a community with a tour for outsiders benefits the neighborhood by highlighting its best qualities.  It boosts the visibility of community groups.  And it helps give the sense of "a complex and interesting city." That's what LISC/Chicago's New Communities Program reported recently to the city of Chicago.  Here's an edited version  of that report: 

Neighborhood tours, developed by community groups in the New Communities Program, have greatly benefited:

--- the community organizations that developed them

--- the neighborhoods they promoted

--- the reputation of Chicago as a complex and interesting city.

The community organizations

 The community organizations LISC works with weren’t unfamiliar with tours. They’d been doing them informally for years to show elected officials, potential funders, visitors and anyone else who was interested what was happening in their neighborhoods and why. Indeed, tours were a principal tool to promote neighborhood redevelopment.

But, following efforts over the past two years to create a more formal, scripted offering, the tours have become more engaging, structured, informative and dramatic than they’d been in the past. That’s a function of the training that the professional tour guides provided, the scripts LISC scribes prepared, and additional research that community organization staff did to learn more details about their neighborhoods.

The main benefit for the community organizations is that their best communications tool is now stronger. The tours are more complete. The presentations are more sophisticated. And the neighborhoods, from historical and social perspectives, are shown in a more interesting light.

But there are numerous ancillary benefits as well.

In working on the scripts, audio slideshows and videos that accompanied the tours, community organization staff learned a great deal about writing, photography, historical research, oral presentations and media technology. This occurred through formal trainings (photography and sound editing, for example) as well as from simply working with the scribes and presenters who were helping them establish the tours.

Those skills will be useful in keeping future tours professional, engaging and up-to-date, but they’ll also improve other types of communications work that the groups do (events, producing website and newsletter content, speaking engagements, etc.)

In addition, the process of creating the tours energized the organizations. As the principal cheerleaders for their neighborhoods, they knew they had a lot going for them. But it appears that the additional research that the tours required opened their eyes to other attractive, interesting elements they weren’t fully aware of.

Thus, the neighborhoods’ best sales forces just got better.

The neighborhoods

Prior to these tours, North Lawndale, East Garfield Park, Chicago Lawn, Quad Communities and all the others engaged in this effort weren’t at the top of anyone’s list of places to visit in Chicago. Even if people wanted to, there wasn’t a structure or vendor to provide that service.

Now there is.

The Garfield Park Conservatory Alliance, for example, recently organized an East Garfield Park tour for more than 100 people. And the organizations in other neighborhoods are aggressively pursuing opportunities to showcase their communities.

That means more people, from more places, are being introduced (in favorable circumstances) to parts of the city that they previously knew little about. That has significant implications. The more people who witness the attractive qualities of neighborhoods that are off the beaten path, the more potential there is for investment in those neighborhoods.

The city

Everyone knows Chicago is a city of neighborhoods, but the tours go a long way in elevating that expression from a cliché to a reality.

Thanks to the marketing skills of the City of Chicago’s Office of Tourism, these tours are coming to the attention of a variety of people (tourists from the U.S. and abroad, business people, realtors, etc.) who can use them as a way to expand their knowledge of a dynamic, vital city.

No doubt the lakefront, the Loop’s terrific architecture, and the elegance of North Michigan Avenue will prevail as Chicago’s calling card as a world class city. But the neighborhoods exposed by these tours will help complete the picture.

They’re the broad shoulders on which the civic ornaments rest, and the tours go a long way in describing their anatomy. And through the websites and web-based mobile technology that was developed in concert with the tours, visitors won’t have to wait for a formal tour to get to know various neighborhoods. They can take their own. The tours will reap benefits for years to come.

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