Originally published on the Global Communities website.
The Boys & Girls Clubs of the Mississippi Valley (BGCMV) has been an integral part of the Floreciente community since it opened its first club in the neighborhood in 1994. Their presence has since expanded to include a Teen Center as well as administrative offices for the entire Quad Cities area. Whereas the BGCMV is highly regarded among community members for their youth programming, their Administration Building – located in the center of the neighborhood – needed to be repaved to deter people from leaving their cars unattended on the lot.
Several additional buildings, public infrastructure, and other services in Floreciente also needed improvements to make them more welcoming to residents. Neighbors, business owners, and representatives from local organizations that work in the Floreciente neighborhood began to meet monthly to identify and prioritize community needs. They also worked to identify projects that would increase community pride and participation and civic activities in Floreciente early on to draw more neighbors to their cause. Popular suggestions included undertaking beautification projects, planting flowers, addressing transportation issues, creating play areas, and celebrating together.
I have been lucky enough to work with community organizers and politicians throughout the Midwest, as well as in the Balkans, Afghanistan, and South Sudan. As a result, I have helped craft and implement to a wide variety of community development initiatives from the “usual” (building roads and schools, providing health care, fostering employment opportunities for youth) to the “surreal” (addressing python infestation currently tops the list). Part of the process in developing countries is teaching people about key principles for civic education and engagement, which is something Americans all know about, but we sometimes forget. The Chicago Tribune recently asked readers to submit ideas about a plan for Chicago, and while drafting my plan to address crime and violence, I put together some ideas about civic engagement and government, and how we can re-engage in city decision-making.
September 15th is the International Day of Democracy. If you didn’t know that, don't fret, I consider myself a democracy nerd and I didn't know. But, having spent the better part of my career working in new democracies, I thought it would be a good occasion to give credit to Chicago, the place that taught me about democracy.
The more cynical among you are expecting jokes about voting “early and often”, political dynasties, or corruption in general. But that is not what I see as the roots of Chicago politics. Chicago politics boils down to three important tenants: politics is local, organizations are about people, and communication is key. This holds true at a community meeting about the local park or at a city council, and yes, it even holds true when politicians are using them to benefit the Machine
Includes professional topics, as well as thoughts about Chicago politics. I also keep a blog on Medium that includes these, as well as more personal posts.