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Neighborhood Leaders Identify Key Issues for Chicago’s Future

On Tuesday, May 10th, the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform hosted an “On the Table” event on “Realizing the Potential of Chicago Neighborhoods.” The event included a roundtable discussion among 40 community leaders in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors working to strengthen neighborhoods throughout the city.

The moderators of the discussion were Lauren Chooljian, City Politics Reporter for WBEZ, and Dometi Pongo, News Director & Morning Anchor for WVON 1690AM. Andrea Durbin of the Illinois Collaboration on Youth started the conversation on disparity in Chicago neighborhoods, stating,“there are two Chicagos: one that works for the middle class and one that doesn’t work for low-income communities.”

As one of the most segregated cities in the nation, Chicago is home to high levels of income disparity between neighborhoods. Rufus Williams, CEO and President of BBF Family Services, summed up this juxtaposition in his comparison of the disparity he sees every day, saying, “I live in Lincoln Park and work in Lawndale. I work in a community that’s four miles away” but feels “a world away.”

Several members of the group noted that investment in infrastructure and education, increased job opportunities for young people, and affordable housing are important to achieve a more equitable system for all. However, many agreed that the biggest issues facing Chicagoans today are symptoms of systemic oppression,  which is often left unaddressed by government leaders. 

This point begged the larger question of how to meaningfully combat systemic oppression. Stephanie Strong of the Chicago Urban League commented that many conversations around the topic of equality “have lost their humaneness” and that while investment in community resources is vital, we must ultimately be driven by the value of “human capital.” Alderman Deb Mell agreed that the best way to build trust and relationships is to create a space for one-on-one interactions between people from different neighborhoods. She advocated a program where Aldermen spend time in other wards to better understand the complexities facing each community.

Ultimately, the leaders that attended Tuesday‘s discussion agreed that these topics cannot be solved in one conversation, by one group, or in a vacuum.All agreed that continued collaboration and discussion among decision-makers is critical to establishing a stronger, more-vital Chicago.

We would like to extend a special thanks to Robert Morris University for hosting and catering the event, to the Chicago Community Trust for creating the On the Table initiative, our moderators, and all the participants for their commitment to an open and honest conversation.

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