In the midst of a Chicago heat wave, people tend to need a good reason to go out on a weeknight. Some who attended the Chicago Sustainability Leaders Network (CSLN) meeting last month were drawn to the location, easily accessible in the heart of downtown Chicago. Others came to visit Openlands, among the oldest metropolitan conservation organizations in the nation. Newcomers were drawn by the appeal of meeting like-minded people, while old friends affectionately refer to CSLN summer meetings as “the fun ones” for their focus on celebration and relationship-building.
The first group was large, a cohort of over 60 students from Engage Chicago, a summer field study program offered by Northwestern University. The second group traveled far, a delegation of four senior officers from Singapore nonprofit Yayasan Mendaki. Both groups came to ICA this July to learn about the organizing model that underpins our work.
Chicago Sustainability Leaders Network, a citywide grassroots coalition organized by ICA, gathered for the second meeting of 2019 on the evening of May 16th. The venue was The Plant, a “collaborative community of small food businesses” housed in a 93,500 square foot facility that was once a meat packing plant.
When Terry Bergdall returned to ICA-USA to serve as CEO in 2009, the organization was in the midst of a missional shift to meet the emerging climate crisis. The City of Chicago was also attempting to respond to climate change, but the government’s approach was to convene expert consultants who crafted environmental programs, and then tried to “sell” them to Chicagoans. ICA believed that this top-down approach to policy-making perpetuated the mentality of treating residents as consumers and in 2011 launched the accelerate77 project to instead show that residents as producers.
The first Chicago Sustainability Leaders Network (CSLN) meeting of the year carried a sense of new energy with a host of familiar names and faces among the 24 who gathered at Windsor Park Evangelical Lutheran Church.
Our host, Alvyn Walker, has been deeply involved and active in CSLN for years, just as Windsor Park Church is deeply involved in the life of the South Shore community it calls home. To start the meeting, Alvyn gave a tour of the church, explaining both the challenges and opportunities of maintaining such a community anchor.
A resilient Chicago requires its residents to have clear lines of communication and engagement with its local government.
That was the feedback shared by the Chicago Sustainability Leaders Network (CSLN) policy team with a team of representatives from the City of Chicago Mayor’s Office across a series of roundtable meetings in 2017 and 2018. During those roundtables, the Chief Sustainability Officer shared an early working version of a resilience plan for the City of Chicago. Sponsored by the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities initiative, the new plan sought to prepare Chicago for shocks and stresses that threaten both residents and the city at large.