Chicago on the Rise, Universities in the Wings

Dear GCI followers,

We are at a historical moment in the City of Chicago. For the first time in its electoral history, the City will have a runoff election for the office of Mayor. Incumbent mayor, Rahm Emmanuel, faces challenger County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia in the April 7 election. This is a time when Chicagoans can debate their vision for the city and who is most likely to help them attain that vision.

At Great Cities Institute, we have been concerned about many issues facing residents of the city and the region, including,

  • Moving from poverty to prosperity,
  • Creating jobs and insisting upon responsible economic development
  • Rebuilding neighborhoods for neighbors
  • Enhancing local governance and community participation

In November, we hosted an event entitled, City on the Make: Race and Inequality in Chicago. At that event, which featured Andrew Diamond from the University of Sorbonne, Jesus Garcia was among the panelists who presented their thoughts on addressing issues of inequality in Chicago. The video of this provocative panel, filmed by CANTV, is available here.

Other events in our Poverty to Prosperity Series are also available through our website. In spring, 2014, a luminary panel followed the presentation by Bob Herbert, former New York Times columnist.

Pedro Noguera, Professor at New York University spoke on Great Cities, Great Schools.

Clearly, a comprehensive approach is necessary to replace poverty with prosperity. Among the strategies that can make a difference, providing jobs is central. Economic Development should be about jobs. Tax incentives should be tied to job creation. In addition, we know from some of our work, that Worker Cooperatives, Small Business Incubators, and Youth Entrepreneurship Programs can be effective vehicles in tackling economic development at the neighborhood level.

Besides adding jobs, rebuilding neighborhoods also means ensuring the viability of its anchor institutions, such as schools, and in addition, providing commercial revitalization. At Great Cities Institute, we support community efforts to revitalization their commercial strips. Recently, we featured the work of the Little Village Chamber of Commerce and the South Chicago Chamber of Commerce.

At the heart of a strong community, is the participation of its residents. Among the GCI community participation work, we have been a key actor in promoting participatory budgeting in Chicago. This is a process whereby Aldermen work with residents in a ward to determine how to spend capital improvement allocations for their district. GCI’s work on PB is highlighted in a recent report on PB. We also believe that democracy can and should be engaging, as demonstrated in Josh Lerner’s book discussion, Making Democracy Fun: How Game Can Design Can Empower Citizens and Transform Politics.

As Chicagoans debate their future, we at Great Cities Institute continue to bring the resources of a public university to Harness the Power of Research and provide Solutions for Today’s Urban Challenges. Using this as our tag line, the Great Cities Institute, has four major research clusters:

  • Employment and Economic Development
  • Local and Regional Governance
  • Dynamics of Global Mobility
  • Energy and the Environment

Urban universities have the responsibility to be engaged in addressing the issues of the day. At the University of Illinois at Chicago, we are proud to be an engaged university, with a Great Cities Commitment. It is with these values in mind, that we applaud the Pritzker Foundation for the $10 million grant to the University of Chicago to add to their crime and education labs an additional three labs: health, poverty, and energy and the environment.

There is plenty to do and many challenges to address. As we move forward in the city of Chicago, our mutual commitments and collaborations may lead to a more prosperous city that extends from the downtown to the reaches of its neighborhoods.

Teresa Córdova