The Epiphany Center for the Arts in the West Loop neighborhood March 11, 2021.

WEST LOOP —Chicagoans can learn to build community gardens, create safe streets and improve Chicago’s waters at the first City Civics Day this weekend.

The event is all day Saturday and is being hosted at the Epiphany Center for the Arts, 201 S. Ashland Ave. More information is available online. The free event aims to connect locals with community leaders and teach people about the people and processes that keep the city running.

City Civics Day includes nine main workshops and panels, a welcome session, a closing panel, a performance by urban arts youth development group Kuumba Lynx and free breakfast and lunch catered by Food For Thought.

The panels and workshops:

  • Converting Old Rails to Community Trails, 11 a.m.
  • How to Organize a Community Garden, 11 a.m.
  • How to Think Like a City Planner, 11 a.m.
  • Why Local Media Matters, 12:15 p.m. Block Club Chicago co-founder and co-executive editor Jen Sabella will participate in this panel along with journalists from City Bureau and City Cast.
  • How to Produce a Neighborhood Event, 12:15 p.m.
  • How to Create Active, Safe, Sustainable Streets, 12:15 p.m.
  • Connecting with Chicago’s Cultural Histories, 1:30 p.m.
  • How to Start a Community Network, 1:30 p.m.
  • How to Improve Chicago’s Rivers, 1:30 p.m.
  • Closing Panel: Community Connections and Public Place, 2:40 p.m.

The city’s Department of Planning and Development and Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events organized the event.

Gabriela Jirasek, assistant commissioner of community and digital engagement at the city’s planning department, said she and other organizers began thinking through ideas for City Civics Day last year.

“We saw that there was a greater need to help people learn about how to get involved in government, how to make changes to their community that benefit the neighborhood,” she said. “This came out as, ‘Let’s try this as something new and see if we can get people interested. And then hopefully, it will become an annual event.’”

Most people don’t know what the planning department is, Jirasek said, so she wanted to introduce people to its wide-ranging work through panels about gardening, nature trails and historical preservation. Organizers also surveyed community partners and volunteers to figure out what would be most beneficial to groups working on the ground, Jirasek said.

“We really leaned heavily on having community neighborhood organizations kind of serve as the spotlight, because they’re the folks who are really doing the work,” Jirasek said.

Even though this is the first City Civic Day, more than 1,500 people had RSVP’d as of Monday, Jirasek said. People are welcome to walk in on Saturday, but Jirasek recommended guests sign up in advance on Eventbrite.

People can stay all day or pop in to panels they’re interested in. When they leave, Jirasek hopes they go home feeling more confident about getting involved in improving their neighborhoods.

“We want it to be a really joyful experience for people, that they can see that getting involved in governance and civic engagement doesn’t have to just be a slog of just sitting through public meetings,” Jirasek said. “We’re trying to empower communities to be part of a planning process or decision making in their wards or broader neighborhoods — and really across the entire city.”

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