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South Chicago, East Side

‘We Will Chicago’ Plan Can Boost Economy By Investing In Black And Brown Neighborhoods, Southeast Siders Say

Neighbors shared their economic development goals for Chicago Wednesday, as part of a citywide planning initiative set to be implemented across Chicago next year.

Storefronts in the 9100 south block of Commercial Avenue in the South Chicago neighborhood on April 30, 2021.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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SOUTH CHICAGO — Southeast Siders guiding Chicago’s first citywide plan in nearly 60 years said they want to see investment in local businesses, community-led projects and jobs programs, and they’re encouraged by the city’s efforts to gauge their needs.

We Will Chicago is the first citywide plan to encourage equitable neighborhood growth since the “1966 Comprehensive Plan” crafted under Mayor Richard J. Daley.

The plan will guide city officials’ budget and policy priorities around seven pillars: Economic development; arts and culture; the environment, climate and energy; housing and neighborhoods; lifelong education; public health and safety; and transportation and infrastructure.

It will cost approximately $4 million to compile the plan from its beginning stages in September 2020 to its expected implementation starting in 2023, planning department spokesperson Peter Strazzabosco said.

A draft is expected to be released in late June, followed by a public input process, Strazzabosco said. Public comments will guide changes before the plan is presented to the Plan Commission in early 2023, Strazzabosco said.

Funding for the initiatives detailed in the plan will be “determined through the city’s 2023 budget process,” Strazzabosco said. Legislation, budgets and changes to city programs could all be used to implement aspects of the plan, he said.

A few dozen attendees focused on the economic development pillar at a We Will Chicago meeting Wednesday, hosted by the nonprofit Alliance of the Southeast. At the city’s request, they suggested officials trim their five draft goals for the economy down to three.

Ideal goals residents shared were for the city to “invest” — particularly in Black and Latino neighborhoods without causing displacement — “help businesses” and “get people working.”

Neighbors were particularly interested in ensuring community control of investments in the neighborhood, whether that would lead to more resources for kids and families, better transit or public safety.

They also advocated for workforce development programs, increased funding for public schools and and more partnerships between universities and local teens in an effort to “get people working.”

For the goal of helping businesses, attendees encouraged the city government to contract with local businesses for its operations, recommended street-level beautification efforts and called for more business education courses across the city.

‘It’s Going Right To The People’

Attendees praised the city’s mission to hear from neighbors on the We Will Chicago plan, while encouraging ways for the process to be more equitable.

Though Wednesday’s meeting got a strong turnout of adults and seniors, the city should push for more engagement with young people, said Maia Laville, a South Shore resident and stray animal advocate known as the “Cat Shero.”

Young adults often ignored by people in traditional positions of power, like gang members or people who deal drugs, should especially be given a chance to advocate for themselves in city planning processes, Laville said.

“We need to engage them on a level that makes them see a wider lens of why neighbors complain, why we call the police,” Laville said. “… They might want us to build basketball courts, they may want a training center, some of them might want to learn how to design video games. But we don’t know, because we’re not talking to them.”

In hearing from all residents, the city could not only deter crime and promote neighborhood vibrancy, they could foster a deeper sense of community among neighbors, she said.

All Chicagoans can benefit from the input gathered through the We Will planning process, even as their communities’ needs differ from each other, said Arnold Bradford, executive director of the Crossroads Collaborative.

“I’m a Chicagoan first,” Bradford said. “I go all over the city. I have children living on the North Side … so what affects them over there affects me over here, and vice versa.”

Christine Bowden, a South Chicago resident and senior services advocate, said she’ll “wait and see” whether city officials accurately reflect residents’ feedback in the final We Will Chicago plan.

“I’ve seen things that [were to have] been put in place fade away,” Bowden said. “… I think [We Will Chicago] is a good program, and if we work together, we can get it done. If we play with it, we won’t.”

South Deering resident and retired state employee Marie Collins-Wright said she didn’t vote for Mayor Lori Lightfoot in the 2019 election, and was initially skeptical of the mayor’s plans.

But Collins-Wright praised Lightfoot’s administration for trying to hear from neighbors on the citywide plan, especially given the other major issues officials face like the pandemic and violent crime, she said.

The We Will Chicago input process is “excellent,” Collins-Wright said. “It’s the grassroots — it’s going right to the people in the community to see what they say.”

Alongside the city’s denial of Southside Recycling’s operating permit in February and the Invest South/West project at 79th Street and Exchange Avenue, We Will Chicago is another encouraging sign of city officials’ willingness to work with Southeast Side residents, Collins-Wright said.

“In the past, the deals, the ideas, the plans have been made, and they tell us about it when they make it,” said Collins-Wright, who intends to vote for Lightfoot in 2023. “Now they’re asking us, ‘What would you like to see? … What would help you?’ That’s so important.”

Chicagoans who missed Wednesday’s meeting can attend at the next We Will feedback session 5:30-7:30 p.m. May 12 at The New Look Restaurant, 2544 E. 83rd St.

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Subscribe to Block Club Chicago, an independent, 501(c)(3), journalist-run newsroom. Every dime we make funds reporting from Chicago’s neighborhoods.

Click here to support Block Club with a tax-deductible donation. 

Thanks for subscribing to Block Club Chicago, an independent, 501(c)(3), journalist-run newsroom. Every dime we make funds reporting from Chicago’s neighborhoods. Click here to support Block Club with a tax-deductible donation.

Listen to “It’s All Good: A Block Club Chicago Podcast”: