A resilient Chicago requires its residents to have clear lines of communication and engagement with its local government.
That was the feedback shared by the Chicago Sustainability Leaders Network (CSLN) policy team with a team of representatives from the City of Chicago Mayor’s Office across a series of roundtable meetings in 2017 and 2018. During those roundtables, the Chief Sustainability Officer shared an early working version of a resilience plan for the City of Chicago. Sponsored by the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities initiative, the new plan sought to prepare Chicago for shocks and stresses that threaten both residents and the city at large.As grassroots leaders and activists representing a diverse cross-section of Chicago, CSLN members know how challenging it can be to work with municipal government.
At the heart of that challenge is the reality that there is not a unified baseline of community engagement efforts across the City of Chicago’s numerous departments and agencies. That fragmentation manifests ultimately affects residents by causing them to feel disconnected from their government and the services it provides.
Tension between community groups and local government is a common and complex narrative. Government tends to operate top down by setting the rules of engagement—laws, ordinances, and other structures that manage the distribution of critical resources and services. On the other hand, community groups often emerge organically, building bottom up from the assets already available to neighborhoods. Where top down and bottom up meet, CSLN envisions not collision, but collaboration—an in-between space that the policy team works to cultivate.
The policy team identified a unified and comprehensive community engagement approach as a catalyst with far-reaching impact. Released on February 16th, 2019, the official Resilient Chicago plan includes CSLN recommendations, and names the network as a key partner for Action Six: Establish a Baseline of City Public Engagement Efforts. Designated as a flagship action, this process is already well underway, having conducted questionnaires, interviews, and a workshop that collectively reached 121 staff across 42 City departments and agencies.
The upcoming transition to a new mayoral administration, however, has raised questions. Ever since current Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced that he would not seek re-election last September, the fate of key positions—including Chief Sustainability Officer—has been unknown, as the next mayor is certain to bring change to the personnel in the Mayor’s Office.
What is certain is that CSLN will continue to foster a more resilient Chicago rooted in engaged communities, and will seek to cultivate that in-between space with the next administration.