On July 18th, 50 people gathered downtown for the CSLN at Openlands, one of the oldest metropolitan conservation organizations in the nation. Over the course of its history, Openlands has helped to protect more than 55,000 acres of land for public parks and forest preserves, wildlife refuges, land and water greenway corridors, urban farms, and community gardens.
Openlands employees Danielle Russell and Al De Reu provided a glimpse into the many programs Openlands offers, including the TreeKeepers course. Through this program Openlands has trained nearly 2,000 volunteers to identify potential tree-related problems, initiate tree plantings, and provide tree care. For more than 25 years TreeKeepers has equipped ambassadors throughout Chicagoland “to provide eyes and ears on the ground year round.”
Following introductions and a short history on CSLN, the group participated in a Network Mapping activity and conversation. Participants generated a rich list of networks they’re involved in, ranging from university alumni associations to statewide alliances. ICA staff member Caitlin Sarro asked the group about their experiences in these networks in general, as well as their unique experiences with CSLN. One member reflected that CSLN’s “broad definition of sustainability” distinguishes it from other networks in which they participate. The feedback from this activity will help inform how CSLN organizers can best represent the network when collaborating with other citywide networks. In the meantime, the data is available to be read and shared in a Network Mapping report.
Participants closed the meeting by leading and joining conversations of interest through Open Space, wherein participants identify and manage their own discussion groups. Topics included food cooperatives, how to transition an association into a nonprofit, material reuse with Barbara Koenen of Creative Chicago Reuse Exchange, timebanking with Mike Strode of Kola Nut Collaborative, measuring social impact with member Brock Auerbach-Lynn, and the beginnings of a mobility CSLN working group initiated by member Dan Black.
After the formal close of the meeting, the room was a flurry of conversation and loose papers as attendees prepared for a picnic at the Millennium Park Summer Music Series. This after party provides an opportunity for informal conversations between members, supporting the peer-to-peer relationships that are at the heart of the network. As a member cited during the Networking Mapping exercise, the greatest benefit to be gained from participating in CSLN is “the inspiration you get from other members.”