I, the LORD, have called you for justice, I have grasped you by the hand;
I formed you, and set you as a covenant for the people — ISAIAH 42:6

The first reading from Mass on Sunday January 10th at the Franciscan Renewal Center in Phoenix certainly was relevant to numerous politicians. I was there because I was attending the 25th Anniversary Gathering for the Technology of Participation (ToP)® which draws upon decades of worldwide community development experience of the Institute of Cultural Affairs (ICA). It was good to meet in person with ToP Network leaders, trainers and facilitators.

A workshop I co-facilitated on using ToP as a tool for climate change action sparked interest for on-going dialogue. A small group discussion on faith-based outreach shared the interesting use of ToP methods with the Muslim Reform Movement. The ToP Champion Award to the Maricopa Public Health Department demonstrated how the process can enhance government’s ability to serve their constituents.

Enabling government to be a covenant for people was certainly an aspiration for Dr. King. I again joined 100 parishioners of our church Old St. Pat’s to attend this year’s Faith in Action Assembly on January 18th for Martin Luther King Day.CRS Jan 2016 Over 1,500 people from Community Renewal Society’s congregations and neighborhood organizations filled First Baptist Congregational Church on Chicago’s near west side.

To address Chicago’s new refrain of “16 Shots & a Cover-Up” from an African-American teenager being killed by a white police officer, an effort has been launched to create the Chicago FAIR COPS (Freedom through Accountability, Investigation and Reform for Community Oversight of Policing Services) Ordinance, which would create an Office of Police Auditor in Chicago. The Assembly won commitments that morning from 19 city and state elected officials to improve police accountability, enact fair tax reform, and increase job opportunities for people with criminal records.

Rev. Eddie Knox, Jr., the pastor of Pullman Presbyterian Church and Board President of Community Renewal Society stressed:

“When black and brown people are constantly at risk from police violence, when our communities are destroyed by economic injustice, we must stand up and demand commitment to real action now!”

For those politicians who did not attend, we prayed: “May God transform your heart and bend your mind toward justice.”

Such prayers were certainly needed at the January 21st hearing of the Chicago Plan Commission. A proposed amendment was submitted by Montrose Clarendon Partners, LLC for land purchased from the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart in order to demolish the vacant Cuneo Hospital Cueno Hospitaland construct two new high-rises of luxury apartments; one with 381 units and a second with 250 units. Total number of affordable units to be provided on site? Only 20.

Yet, the City of Chicago has approved a $15.9 million TIF subsidy for these luxury apartments. The developer has only promised to contribute $4.6 million to help renovate the Clarendon Park Community Center across the street and $5.7 million to Chicago’s Low-Income Housing Trust Fund but not to be spent in Uptown.

That’s a major net profit for the developer since the project is being rushed for final approval before more stringent affordable housing requirements become effective later this year. According to my calculations, the new Affordable Ordinance would require this project to provide 158 affordable units on site (25%). Even if they were allowed to buy their way out of affordable units on site and given credit for the park donation, I calculate that the developer would need to contribute an additional $6.9 million to the Low-Income Trust Fund.JDL

ICA’s Program Director, Seva Gandhi, testified and asked that the project be put on hold until there is actual community representation at the table, the proper studies take place, and funds are allocated to increase broader community engagement for this particular planning process.

“This proposed Montrose-Clarendon development will overshadow a wonderful park, will create a greater divide between the have and have-nots in Uptown, and is not responsive to the need Uptown currently has… for affordable housing that is already not being met, and will continue to be exacerbated if it is ignored and development without understanding the needs of the community it serves continues this way.”

Seva had also attended the last community meeting and noted: “as a community engagement specialist and facilitator I can say those meetings only took into account the voices of individuals who have one particular vision for Uptown; each meeting was met with more community members opposing the project than wanting it; however it was those who were in favor of the project that had a vote…. The process gave power to block club leaders and experts who, despite having been carefully selected to represent diverse interests, were not accessible or accountable to the community members they were supposed to represent. ICA, a large community stakeholder in Uptown for over 40 years, did not have a vote in the community zoning and development group that approved this proposal.”

In Paragraph 93 of his ENCYCLICAL LETTER LAUDATO SI’, Pope FRANCIS reminds us:

“The Christian tradition has never recognized the right to private property as absolute or inviolable, and has stressed the social purpose of all forms of private property.”

He goes on to quote Saint John Paul II: “there is always a social mortgage on all private property, in order that goods may serve the general purpose that God gave them…. it is not in accord with God’s plan that this gift be used in such a way that its benefits favour only a few.”

Luxury apartments in Chicago’s most racially and economically diverse community is a legacy that the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart should not accept as meeting the aspirations of Pope Francis and Saint John Paul II.



“You on an adventure, Mr. Citizen. I bet you didn’t know that. It’s all adventure. You signed up for it and didn’t even know it.” – Aunt Ester, Gem of the Ocean by August Wilson

Point Betsie, Michigan

Point Betsie MI

It’s been a busy month since I posted my last blog. Fortunately it started with a vacation trip to western Michigan with sunsets, wineries and lighthouses.

September included a visit from my colleague Irvin Henderson, who is consulting with the Institute of Cultural Affairs (ICA) on applying to have our Chicago landmarked building placed on the National Register of Historic Places for ICA’s social justice history. Knowing of Irv’s work with the Hill Community Development Corporation to restore the Granada Theatre in Pittsburgh, we went to see the Court Theatre’s awesome production of August Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean.

August Wilson at the Granada

August Wilson at the Granada

Set in 1904, this play begins Wilson’s ten-play 20th Century Cycle. Having seen most of them, I thoroughly enjoyed finally meeting Aunt Ester, the ancestor character that hovers throughout Wilson’s saga of African-Americans in Pittsburgh’s Hill District, where he was born and raised. Aunt Ester’s admonition to Mr. Citizen remains pertinent over a century later.

The week of September 21st was the Fall Sojourn for ICA’s Archives Team and the largest ever with over 40 volunteers working in three teams to “create the future of our past.” One team explored the Imaginal Education of ICA’s Training Inc. projects which graduated 25,582 individuals across 15 locations.

Paul Noah Charts ICA's History

Paul Noah charts ICA’s History

Another reflected on ICA’s roots as the Ecumenical Institute and the relevance of a New Religious Mode for the emergence of conversations on Faith & Sustainability. The third team combed the archives for materials on ICA’s Bicentennial Town Meetings in 5,000 US counties and Human Development projects in each of the world’s 24 time zones.

I had the opportunity to welcome our archivists and to hear their closing reports but I spent three days that week visiting community and sustainable development activists in Austin, Texas. I spent the plane ride down reading ICA’s history and founding as The Ecumenical Institute as compiled by Beret Griffith. I was joined on my visit by ICA board director Randy Williams, who shared with those we visited the story of how Rev. Joseph Wesley Mathews left the Christian Faith and Life Community at the University of Texas to become the Dean of The Ecumenical Institute in Evanston, IL.

“As arguably the most progressive city in Texas, Austin nonetheless has its challenges,” Randy reflects. “It is one of the most economically and racially segregated cities in the region. If local people, through neighborhood initiatives, could be connected, this would create significant synergy and momentum for addressing these challenges.”

Red Bench AustinInterfaith Action of Central Texas (iACT) believes that the work of “cultivating peace and respect” cannot be left to diplomats and dignitaries; the faithful, have to play a leading role. Red Bench is an ongoing dialogue program designed to address one of the most pressing needs of our time: improving interfaith understanding and civil discourse in our society. September’s Red Bench conversation was on Racial Intolerance.

Texas Impact, “People of Faith Working for Justice,” lobbies on issues of religious social concern. It is part of Interfaith Power and Light, a national movement with branches in 39 states, devoted to deepening the connection between ecology and faith, and encouraging a “religious response to global warming.” This past February, in conjunction with Austin’s Interfaith Environmental Network and iACT, they held their second-annual Preach-Off on Climate Change, for religious leaders to share their tradition’s wisdom with not just their own congregations, but with the entire community.

Evolve Austin Partners champions the Imagine Austin comprehensive plan, crafted by the people of Austin to create a more affordable, mobile, and sustainable city. By addressing the challenges and opportunities presented by Austin’s explosive growth with compact and connected strategies, they will be seeking to create better and more inclusive choices for living, working, and getting around Austin. Their mantra is that it’s time to “change the conversation about change” to achieve the best Austin imaginable, a city that offers opportunity, freedom, and fairness to all.

Of course this month’s most historic moment was Pope Francis’ address to Congress:

“In Laudato Si’, I call for a courageous and responsible effort to ‘redirect our steps’ and to avert the most serious effects of the environmental deterioration caused by human activity. I am convinced that we can make a difference and I have no doubt that the United States – and this Congress – have an important role to play. Now is the time for courageous actions and strategies, aimed at implementing a culture of care and an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature.“

The New York Times reported Pope Francis omitted the sharpest phrase in his prepared text: “If politics must truly be at the service of the human person, it follows that it cannot be a slave to the economy and finance.” A spokesman later said he lost his place and passed over it by accident.

Politics serving human needs is not a point to be passed over, Mr. Citizen. It’s time to embrace the adventure you’re on and get engaged in changing the conversation.


Society is also enriched by a countless array of organizations which work to promote the common good and to defend the environment, whether natural or urban. Some, for example, show concern for a public place (a building, a fountain, an abandoned monument, a landscape, a square), and strive to protect, restore, improve or beautify it as something belonging to everyone. Around these community actions, relationships develop or are recovered and a new social fabric emerges. ENCYCLICAL LETTER LAUDATO SI’ OF THE HOLY FATHER FRANCIS

I finished reading the Pope’s new encyclical on my return flight from Denver this past week. I met folks there who are defending the environment and weaving a new social fabric, as they pursue sustainability initiatives to continue improving their communities and address climate change.

Tears-McFarlane House was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1976 and is operated by CHUN as a community center.

Tears-McFarlane House was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1976 and is operated by CHUN as a community center.

Capitol Hill United Neighborhoods [CHUN] is a registered neighborhood association acting democratically for more than 40 years to involve all who care and will participate to improve the quality of life on Capitol Hill. They have been planting and pruning trees for decades. In June every year, their People’s Fair turns Civic Center Park into Colorado’s third largest city over the weekend of the festival, with over 200,000 fair-goers and numerous exhibitors, vendors and volunteers.

One of CHUN’s emerging issues is promoting new composting opportunities, while addressing the challenge that owners of multi-family buildings are not required to even recycle. Denver’s diversion rate is only 14%. The People’s Fair diversion rate reached 44% in 2013. CHUN is advocating that more sustainability requirements should be place on developers than just bicycle racks.

This strategy of “3 Bins” for composting, recycling, and not just “trash” came up in several of my meetings. An initiative at the Auraria Campus of Metro State University of Denver, the Community College of Denver (CCD), and the University of Colorado at Denver is striving to change the behavior at their tri-university cafeteria by labeling the third bin as “Land Fill” so students realize the consequences of their choice to discard.

Photography by David Lauer, Design Architecture by Gensler

Photography by David Lauer, Design Architecture by Gensler

The Alliance for Sustainable Colorado is a nonprofit organization dedicated to transforming sustainability from vision to reality. Their Alliance Center [a 100 year old, 41,000 square foot building in Denver’s historic LoDo] is Colorado’s Hub of Sustainability serving as a center for innovation and learning in order to accelerate the implementation of sustainability in Colorado. It was the first historic building in the world to earn two LEED certifications: Gold for Existing Buildings and Silver for Commercial Interiors.

They provide multi-tenant shared office space and programming to enhance the productivity and innovation of The Alliance Center tenant-partners. They conduct educational events that share examples of changing operating paradigms and piloting new models. The Alliance is striving to catalyze the Sustainability Movement by mounting campaigns, educating the public, convening key leaders and activating collaborations.

Denver Urban Gardens [DUG] is celebrating its 30th anniversary, growing from 3 to 150 community gardens, plus 46 schools. Their mantra is: “We grow community – one urban garden at a time.” DUG offers neighborhoods the essential resources for community gardens, including ongoing technical expertise. They advocate for policy changes such as the Denver’s new home occupation classification to permit residents to grow and sell food.

Denver Gove GardenGove Community Garden is being used by the local Veteran’s Affair Hospital as part of its rehabilitation program. To further promote community, the garden also donates a portion of their harvest to Metro CareRing, a local hunger relief organization. Gove Community Garden is also home to DUG’s demonstration compost site and Learn to Compost workshops.

Inter-Neighborhood Cooperation [INC] is a coalition of Registered Neighborhood Organizations who receive City notices and have standing in public review process. Their mantra is: “Neighborhoods work better when they work together.” INC advocates that neighborhoods need to be listened to. In partnership with the Denver Community Planning & Development, INC is recruiting for the first ever Citizens’ Planning Academy with three-part curriculum to empower residents and business owners so they can engage in and guide planning efforts effectively.

Mayor Michael B. Hancock celebrates  opening of first Denver B-cycle station included in design of new development.

Mayor Michael B. Hancock celebrates opening of first Denver B-cycle station included in design of new development.

Jerry Tinianow is Denver’s Chief Sustainability Officer, whose mandate from Mayor Michael B. Hancock is to “go to scale and assure everyone plays.” He works with a Sustainability Advisory Council of over 30 residents, who were self-nominated and appointed by the Mayor, to address issues such as: Climate, Energy, and Air Quality; Food and Health; Housing, Land Use, and Workforce; and Materials, Mobility, and Water. He is also working with every City Department to update Denver’s 2020 Sustainable Goals and to convene a Sustainable Denver Summit in December to leverage new commitments and collaborations.

I truly appreciated the warm welcome from the Technology of Participation (ToP)® facilitators and the Institute of Cultural Affairs’ alumni, many who facilitated Town Meetings as part of ICA’s Bicentennial program in 1976 and/or served Human Capital Development Projects as part of the Band of 24. I am especially grateful to Parry Burnap, Catherine Welch, Jim and OliveAnn Slotta for the extensive introductions and making me feel a part of the ICA family.

OliveAnn offers this week’s addition to the U2Cando playlist. With the aid of ICA’s Archives, the lyrics were found as “tweaked” in the ICA’s Global Songbook from 1983-84:

I see wonder coming everywhere.
This strange presence seems to fill the air.
New communities emerge that care.
I wonder why? I wonder why?

Old worlds passing quickly out of sight.
New is dawning with its shocking light.
Old despair is finally in the past,
Our destiny recast
I now know why!

The whole world is arisin’,
It is no time for cryin’.
The old way’s death is but new birth.
Beyond all expectations,
The new aeon’s awaitin’
A wake now! See the common earth.

Tune: You’re Just in Love by Irving Berlin


“Tilling” refers to cultivating, ploughing or working, while “keeping” means caring, protecting, overseeing and preserving. This implies a relationship of mutual responsibility between human beings and nature. Each community can take from the bounty of the earth whatever it needs for subsistence, but it also has the duty to protect the earth and to ensure its fruitfulness for coming generations. — Paragraph # 67 ENCYCLICAL LETTER LAUDATO SI’ OF THE HOLY FATHER FRANCIS

So I made it almost half way through Pope Francis’ encyclical on my flight home from Minneapolis. The section above captures the efforts of those I met this past week. The potential for collaborating in the Twin Cities on sustainability initiatives to address climate change (the focus question for my visit) is substantial.

The range of those already engaged include mentor Technology of Participation (ToP)® trainers, Minneapolis city officials, policy researchers, sustainability leaders, artists, community developers and service providers. All shared the urgency of climate change and the challenge of identifying appropriate actions to initiate. Acknowledging that Minnesota is already the “Land of 10,000 Coalitions”, there was recognition perhaps one more would be timely.

Conversations included:

• connecting the environmental issue to the grass-roots and engaging minority leaders from low-income communities;
• pending expansion of community solar gardens transforming energy consumers into owners of renewable energy; and
• how to best shift images and cultural values to build consensus for behavioral change.

One anecdote from the wisdom of the young was the 8th grade hip-hop composition: How is hurting the earth not criminal?

Sean & SolarThe Alliance for Sustainability, among its many activities, is working with congregations to explore community solar options and watershed stewardship. They have produced a YouTube Video that explains the benefits of joining a community solar garden. Sean Gosiewski, the Alliance’s Executive Director, has 30 years of experience bringing community leaders together to envision and build sustainable communities, providing hands-on tools and training to build community, health, wealth and local resilience. He has received a Technology of Participation Champion’s Award from the Institute of Cultural Affairs.

The Minneapolis Office of Sustainability is launching a “green zone” initiative to provide a framework for city policy and investment for minority, low-income communities that are over-burdened with pollution. The City’s Neighborhood and Community Relations department strives for equitable access by addressing and removing barriers to civic participation and meaningful engagement.

Many potential collaborators in the Twin Cities are already “tilling and keeping” to assure that climate change is not inevitable; it’s preventable.

Don’t know if it’s on the Pope’s playlist; but here’s this week’s addition to the U2Cando playlist:

Whenever God shines his light on me
Opens up my eyes so I can see
When I look up in the darkest night
I know everything’s going to be alright
In deep confusion, in great despair
When I reach out for him he is there
When I am lonely as I can be
I know that God shines his light on me

“Whenever God Shines His Light On Me”
Van Morrison