“This network defines sustainability very broadly and holistically, which allows me to develop more knowledge, toolkits, language, and connections in these areas, beyond environmental sustainability.”
Community-based sustainability initiatives are taking place across the metropolitan area of Chicago. To date, they have been relatively isolated activities with limited interaction. Though there are many programs and resources to assist local sustainability efforts, many communities are unaware of these opportunities or unfamiliar with ways to access them.
The Institute of Cultural Affairs (ICA) has been the organizing sponsor of “accelerate 77” since 2011 and created the program in order to increase the role and positive impact of local community actions. Starting in the Fall of 2011, over 200 students from five Chicago-based Universities began to uncover the organizations, initiatives and individuals working at the community level toward creating a more sustainable Chicago.
ICA’s strategy continues to be:
• IDENTIFY current sustainability initiatives in all of Chicago’s 77 community areas;
• CONNECT them with one another to inspire new ideas, practices, self-consciousness and motivation through peer interchange;
• COLLABORATE in systematic learning, planning, and collective action; and
• ACCELERATE sustainability in a bottom-up fashion driven by practical action, expanded imagination, and greater organizational capacities among local groups.
A key outcome has been the emerging Chicago Sustainability Leaders Network (CSLN) which is a diverse, intergenerational group working on a wide variety of issues in communities across Chicago who are passionate about learning from one another and working across communities for widespread, lasting change.
CSLN connects grassroots leaders from communities across Chicago to share resources, support each other’s work, inspire new thinking across disciplines and best sustainable practices, collaborate, build a stronger collective voice, and nurture equitable and impactful relationships with policy makers. CSLN is the “city-wide” platform that attracted me to the CEO position at ICA-USA. There are many “connecting the dots” opportunities that remind me of my years at the Chicago Association of Neighborhood Organizations (CANDO).
This past week’s bi-monthly Network Meeting was hosted at the William Hill Gallery and Garden, a true treasure in Chicago’s Woodlawn community. Those attending reflected on the results of a recent Network survey, which highlighted the value that CSLN members place on connectivity and collaborating. Besides the opening quote, another commented:
“I have been made aware of a lot (!!) of interesting neighborhood groups that I would not have heard of/or chatted with otherwise. It’s allowed me to think outside the box and engage in new ideas.”
In looking forward, members prioritized increasing the depth of connectivity and promoting regional community hubs as “living libraries.” ICA will be seeking to expand programing at its own GreenRise Learning Lab in Uptown, while assisting CSLN members to act as ongoing community-based hubs either at their own physical site or at other locations in or near their communities.
CSLN’S accomplishments, since its launch in October 2013, are a testimony to its “applied cultural anthropologist” Jenny Hirsch, who cultivated and nurtured its emergence. At this past week’s Network meeting, CSLN members wished Jenny farewell as she has accepted a new position, starting in August, at the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) to launch and direct its new initiative on sustainable communities.
Of course, Jenny received a rousing singing send-off. But I have chosen the following lyrics for this week’s U2Cando playlist in Jenny’s honor. Thanks for all you have done and for your future dreams.
This world in transition, old forms torn apart;
Creates a new mission, demands a new heart.
The new world is crushing the one that we knew;
Our minds barely touching the change rushing through….
If ever a singer were needed to sing,
If ever a dreamer were needed to dream,
If ever a people were called on to stand,
It’s surely this moment; it’s surely this land.
Hold on to the dream that gives the world
A vision to share
And cherish the hope that gives the people
Courage to care.
The Courage to Care
Lyrics: The ICA Sustainability Song Book
Tune: Theme from Chariots of Fire