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CNDA 2013: Engaged, healthy and strong

Chicago and its neighborhoods have reached an “inflection point” where problems once considered too difficult to address are being analyzed with an eye toward investments critical to their solution.

So while Mayor Rahm Emanuel praised the winning brick-and-mortar projects saluted at the 19th annual Chicago Neighborhood Development Awards, he also challenged the audience of community development practitioners and funders to do even more.

Photo: Eric Young Smith

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel praised the winners at the 19th annual Chicago Neighborhood Development Awards--and challenged community builders to do more to improve their neighborhoods.

Most of all, the mayor urged the 1,500 who came to the Chicago Hilton & Towers on Feb. 13 to reach out to young people “whose optimism and youthfulness have been taken from them.” 

For the city to succeed, the mayor said, these disaffected teenagers and young adults need to “see themselves as sharing in the success of our global city.” 

Emanuel did not specifically address the wave of lethal violence that has shaken neighborhoods on the West and South sides, nor did he elaborate on the painful proposal – released earlier that day – to close more than 120 underutilized schools. But as he spoke of “hard decisions,” of “investing in the right things” and of “bridging the difference” between blunted aspirations in the neighborhoods compared to the energy building downtown, the context was broadly appreciated.

Earlier in the evening Susana Vasquez, executive director of LISC Chicago, which hosts the event, also called for “stretching ourselves.”

“What will make us stronger as a city in the months and years ahead is stretching ourselves to build new relationships with people and parts of the city that are not as familiar, and forging new coalitions," said Vasquez. "That's how we are going to break through on some of these toughest issues: by continuing to push ourselves to build trust."

Photo: Eric Young Smith

Julia Stasch, Vice President of US Programs at the MacArthur Foundation, received the Richard M. Daley Friend of the Neighborhoods Award.

In the same vein, Lori Healey, board chair of LISC Chicago and of this year’s CNDA, called on the community development faithful to “take a closer look at the emerging challenges and opportunities facing Chicago.”

Healthy & Strong
Before the awards ceremony, which is held annually to celebrate outstanding projects and achievements in the city’s neighborhoods, a panel of health experts discussed what it takes achieve “Healthy neighborhoods/Strong city” – this year’s CNDA theme. But upfront it was made achingly clear that some neighborhoods are a lot healthier than others.

Dr. Steve Whitman, director of the Sinai Urban Health Institute, cited a string of data points showing that Chicago has work to do, especially in neighborhoods of color:

  • Life expectancy among blacks in Chicago is eight years less than for whites (71 years vs. 79) with, for instance, residents of affluent Lakeview outliving those in West Garfield Park by 14 years on average, or 83 vs. 69 years.
  • The infant mortality rate among Chicago blacks is roughly three times that for whites.
  • Diabetes has reached epidemic levels in minority neighborhoods such as Humboldt Park, where it now afflicts 21 percent of the population, versus “only” 8 percent citywide … which is bad enough.

Photo: Eric Young Smith

"That's how we are going to break through on some of these toughest issues: by continuing to push ourselves to build trust," said Susana Vasquez, executive director of LISC Chicago.

Panelist Jeff Bartow, executive director of the Southwest Organizing Project, said the Great Recession and epidemic of home foreclosures has forced people to make dreadful trade-offs. “Should I buy my diabetes medicine or pay my mortgage. What kind of choices are those?”

Dr. Stephanie Whyte, chief health officer for the Chicago Public Schools, made the point that health and learning are directly linked. Fewer than 10 percent of CPS students have had their vision checked before kindergarten, she said. Sexually-transmitted infections are so rampant among 13- to 24-year-olds that Cook County ranks first in the nation for gonorrhea and syphilis, second for chlamydia.

Mike Tomas, executive director of the Garfield Park Community Council, said access to quality food, especially fresh fruits and vegetables, is a key to tackling the twin problems of obesity and diabetes. One innovation: a Garfield Park Garden Network of more than 30 community gardens plus a year-round greenhouse funded by Kraft Foods.

In summary, moderator Dr. Cheryl Whitaker, chair of the Illinois Health Information Exchange Authority, urged everyone at the Forum to “get more involved … to engage locally with our elected officials … get involved at the local level on the streets we live on.”

Neighborhood winners

Photo: Eric Young Smith

Panelist Jeff Bartow, executive director of the Southwest Organizing Project, talked about the epidemic of foreclosures in his part of the city and others.

The people and projects honored as 2012’s best all exemplified, in one way or another, the dynamic process of getting engaged, getting healthy and getting strong.

The winners were:

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