In 2015, Chicago Sustainability Leaders Network presented a series of interactive discussions and activities exploring how to create public spaces that are truly sustainable: just, safe, environmentally- and climate-friendly, and welcoming to people of diverse cultures, ages, and backgrounds — the Is it Just Space? series.

Across five events and five community bike rides, over 20 partners engaged over 350 residents. All the events encouraged community members to explore new perspectives, either through learning something entirely new or looking at a familiar topic in a different way. This series made apparent the network’s value as a multidisciplinary entity.

To catch up on the series, you’re invited to read the event recaps below and reflect on your own experiences. What are your favorite places? What places do you want to take care of?

Sacred Keepers Sustainability Lab, Southside Roots, Black Ecology

Thanks to Toni Anderson,
Sacred Keepers Sustainability Lab; Richard Dobbins, Southside Roots; and Mecca Brooks, Black Ecology for hosting this launch event for our series, “
Is It Just Space?” In the true spirit of the Chicago Sustainability Leaders Network (CSLN), we acted, snacked, watched, and talked–exploring migration from multiple perspectives. Richard helped us plant milkweed, which is the only plant where Monarchs will lay eggs. Toni shows “Flight of the Butterflies,” chronicling the discovery of the Monarchs’ migration from Michoacan, Mexico to Chicago then Canada and back. Mecca led a post-movie discussion exploring parallels between the Great Migration of African-Americans and Monarchs, opening with the provocative question: “Is it revolutionary to say that African-American men are endangered?”

Patners: Institute of Cultural AffairsCitta PartnershipChicago Cultural AllianceSwedish American Musesum

On July 14, as part of CSLN’s ongoing “Is It Just Space?” series, the Chicago Cultural Alliance, Citta Partnership and the ICA hosted a session called ‘Do You Feel Welcome Here’ at theSwedish American Museum.

Event attendees were asked to spend time looking at the Chicago Families exhibit called ‘Finding Home’ currently being showcased at themuseum, and then participated in a facilitated world cafe discussion about what makes a space welcoming, why it is important, and what community people can do within spaces they encounter every day to make them feel more welcoming

Partners:  animalia projectAudubon Society Chicago RegionFriends of Cuneo

On July 19,  Audubon Chicago Region and Friends of Cuneo collaborated on an animalia project “Transit to Trail” tour of Uptown’s extensive “nearly natural lakefront, including Chicago Park District’s Montrose Beach, Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary, and Clarendon Park.

Fair weather accompanied walkers who learned how shifting sands and shifting priorities have resculpted the landscape many times and continue to do so today. Jen Johnson, Wild Indigo Outreach Fellow at Audubon Chicago Region, summed up the experience well: “The Montrose walk was a great way for me to connect history and nature with the present. It was great to learn more about a different neighborhood.” To see more photos from the event, click here.

Slow Roll Chicago and the CSLN partnered on the Sustainable September ride series, supported by LISC Chicago, to explore the nuances of five communities with Slow Roll Chicago while promoting an equitable bike culture. Each community area shared something unique, from a welcoming front porch culture in Greater Lawndale to Growing Power’s urban farm in Back of the Yards.

The rides were:

  1. Routes, Roots & Wheels: Growing Englewood, in partnership with Grow Greater Englewood. (Englewood)

  2. We Ride Juntos: Unity and Activism in Greater Lawndale, in partnership with Universidad Popular, Enlace Chicago, Openlands, Lawndale Christian Fitness Center, Ald. Munoz 22nd Ward Office, and Little Village Public Library. (Greater Lawndale)

  3. Riding to Build Chicago, in partnership with BUILD, Inc. (Austin)

  4. Growing Food, Growing Justice, Growing Power, in partnership with Growing Power. (Back of the Yards)

  5. From Roots to Fruits: Exploring Uptown’s Historic Landmarks and Community Gardens, in partnership with the Institute of Cultural Affairs and Go Edgewater. (Uptown)

Partners: Institute of Cultural AffairsChicago Eco HouseUrban Prep Englewood

Chicago Eco House and the Institute of Cultural Affairs partnered on a work day with with students from Urban Prep Academy in Englewood. The group installed a rain barrel and built raised beds to build a garden. The food producing garden will add a hands-on activity to their regular curriculum.

Partners: Institute of Cultural Affairs, Center for Neighborhood Technology

Network members and Just Space attendees were invited to the October CSLN network meeting to reflect on the Just Space series and its implications for the network. Network members considered the event a successful example of what’s possible through a multidisciplinary approach to sustainability.

Network members used this reflection to inform a set of recommendations to share with the City regarding Chicago’s sustainability plan, including a set of network values and specific programs, policies, and partnerships.