What We Do

Each year, members of this working group design an event or a series of activities that forward CSLN’s vision of holistic community sustainability. These activities are member-driven in design and content but are often offered publicly, open to all.

Collaborative Activities FAQs

A CSLN activity draws on network resources to forward CSLN’s vision of holistic community sustainability – connecting environmental health, human well-being, social justice, robust civic engagement, and community vitality. A CSLN activity brings together people from communities, organizations, civic institutions and other places by creating ‘in-between spaces’ where expertise from within the community and outside the community meet and interact.

More specifically, a CSLN activity:

  • Is a collaboration among at least 3 network members representing a variety of backgrounds (professional, geographic, ethnic/race, topic expertise), to offer diversity of perspectives and ensure accountability and quality (checks and balances)
  • Addresses issues from multiple technical and cultural perspectives
  • Has been shared with CSLN members for input during planning
  • Shares CSLN materials
  • Is documented and reported back to CSLN (highlights, learnings, impact, effectiveness)

Designating an activity as “CSLN” is a voluntary decision by the organizations and people involved in planning the activity. For example, if 3 partners collaborate on a film-screening, they can choose to do that without calling it a CSLN activity. If they feel inspired to call it a CSLN activity– that doing so would add value–they can call it a CSLN activity, as long as it generally meets the criteria laid out for designating an activity as “CSLN.”

A CSLN activity may be for anyone–a set group (e.g., youth group that meets regularly), a particular community (e.g., Pilsen seniors), a whole geographic community (e.g., all residents of Edgewater), the general public (in which case all CSLN members would be encouraged to bring their constituents), the network itself (e.g., a leadership development training, panel discussion at a conference, internal skill share, or gathering with another network), or any other audience.

CSLN activities may focus on a single issue related to sustainability, such as reuse/repurposing, gardening, food, energy, etc. Alternatively, they may focus on engaging a particular population in sustainability work, such as youth, Latinos, or people living within a bounded neighborhood, andbconnecting the issues that these populations are most engaged in with other sustainability issues. Or, CSLN activities may focus more broadly on sustainable community-building or related social justice justice and host activities related to a number of different issues and populations. The key to making an activity a CSLN activity is to collaborate with other network members to address the issue from multiple perspectives (and to follow the other guidelines laid out in What is a CSLN activity? above).

  • A half-day workshop on urban gardening held at a garden site managed by a CSLN member that includes activities representing different takes on gardening or different approaches to gardening in different neighborhoods. For example: a presentation on managing healthy soils (by a University soil scientist), hands-on demo of building a raised bed (by a professional landscaper from inside or outside the community), a tour of the hub garden (by the CSLN member host), a structured activity to encourage gardeners to get to know each other (facilitated by a community leader), a panel discussion on gardening in different cultures or neighborhoods (with gardeners of diverse heritage), sharing information about donating produce to food pantries (from a food pantry representative), a community potluck.
  • A monthly discussion group on ‘what does a sustainable Chicago (or neighborhood) look like?’. Each week participants watch a video together and discuss the content, their reaction and what they might do.
  • A sleep-over for kids 5-10 years old where they learn about healthy foods by working together to make a healthy dinner and snacks (including foods from different cultures), then play games and watch movies. In the morning, they make their own healthy breakfast.
  • An afternoon of family-friendly activities focused on birds, including activity stations where people can build birdhouses or bird feeders from reclaimed materials, learn to identify birds by listening to bird calls, make bird-friendly designs to decorate their windows, trace the migration routes of birds from other countries that spend part of the year in Chicago, plant a native seed to transplant in their own garden, and learn about birds in traditional art and cultural stories.
  • Collaborators: CSLN members and allies
  • Connections to a myriad of outside groups with different areas of expertise
  • Foundational materials on sustainable communities
  • Assistance with publicity
  • Assistance or training in skills needed to organize, host, facilitate, evaluate, etc.
  • Guidelines for documentation and evaluation
  • Resources from other CSLN members
  • Limited funding may be available
  • And more…

The CSLN includes many stakeholders that are currently doing tremendous work on initiatives that are well aligned with the CSLN’s holistic vision of sustainable communities. Activities become CSLN activities when they involve significant collaboration and resources from CSLN members working in other communities or organizations or taking different approaches–per the guidelines above. If a CSLN member conducts activities that do not require this kind of collaboration or additional resources of CSLN members, it is not a CSLN activity.

A CSLN Hub is a CSLN member that commits to acting as an ongoing CSLN community-based site by hosting CSLN activities at least 3-4 times per year, either at their own physical site or at other locations in or near their communities. CSLN Hubs will be the most visible incarnations of CSLN in communities across the city.

The CSLN should support hubs in different geographic communities across the city that have different foci, so they complement each other and draw people from multiple communities to interact with each other. There is currently a hub in Uptown, Bronzeville, and South Shore. More hubs are in development. 

The Institute of Cultural Affairs in Uptown and Sacred Keepers Sustainability Lab in Bronzeville have
both expressed interest in acting as CSLN Hubs. Here are some ways in which they might operate
as CSLN Hubs:
 The Institute of Cultural Affairs
 Physical Site: ICA GreenRise Learning Laboratory at Lawrence & Sheridan in Uptown
 Focus: Democracy and Sustainability
 Potential Hub Activities:
 Host movie discussions about democracy and sustainable community-building, with
movie showings followed by panel discussions of different CSLN members
 Host quarterly cross-community Saturday workshops with multiple activities happening in
different rooms, such as sustainable community methods training, video followed by
conversation, gardening or youth engagement training, etc.
 Collaborate with other CSLN members to build a green, sustainable culture among
nonprofit tenants that lease space in the building (e.g., homeless shelter, ethnic churches)
 ICA is housed in the GreenRise Learning Lab–a demonstration site of an old building (a
historic landmark) being retrofit to be environmentally friendly. As a CSLN Hub, it might
collaborate with other CSLN members to start a lending library of books, movies, and case
studies on historic preservation and retrofits and incorporate examples from other CSLN
members into the building tours that it regularly gives to visiting groups.

CSLN Hubs depend on collaboration from other organizations, CSLN-affiliated and otherwise, to run CSLN activities. Your organization can support a CSLN Hub or CSLN activity by:

  • Collaborating to plan, organize and/or facilitate hub activities
  • Providing materials for a hub activity (e.g., materials for a lending library)
  • Sharing expertise by leading an activity or giving a presentation at the Hub
  • Connecting with others through the Time Bank
  • Helping publicize hubs and hub activities
  • Using resources for orgs provided by a hub (e.g., meeting space, lending library materials)
     Bringing groups to participate in hub activities (when appropriate)

People are also encouraged to get involved with CSLN Hubs as individuals (not representing a particular organization). Individuals can…

  • Attend hub activities
  • Volunteer with a hub
  • Use hub resources for individuals (e.g., tools, videos, etc.)
  • Publicize hubs and hub activities to friends and family

Previous work

Most recently, the Nourish (comm)Unity II: Crossing Generations and Neighborhoods was a collaborative events series that featured four events curated by our members in this group. Each event explored a different Chicago neighborhood through topics such as victory gardens, biking, gathering spaces, and technology. 

Also notable: