Elevated Chicago is a collaborative of residents, community organizations, artists, developers, regional nonprofits, community development financial institutions, city officials, policymakers, activists, and philanthropists. Collaboration is who we are and a measure of our work.
Crossing communities and sectors, we seek to erase boundaries, shift power, and de-center elements of white supremacy culture (such as perfectionism, conflict avoidance and competitive individualism) that harm community development.
How we see things
We work for specific outcomes using four lenses: racial equity, health, climate, and art and culture. These provide a keen framework by which we gauge the intent and impact of our work.
We have expanded the definition, voices and stakes of equitable transit-oriented development (ETOD) by creating new systems of decision-making and re-envisioning leadership. Our bodies of governance are structured to facilitate authentic, inclusive and effective community engagement, and power and ownership in decisions affecting the built environment.
Elevated Chicago is led by a Steering Committee representing national, regional, local and community voices and organizations that work on issues of equity, opportunity, affordability, health, culture, and climate resilience. This group identifies and sets actionable priorities for our work, in conjunction with site-based and cross-site Community Tables (CT) and Working Groups (WG).
Our efforts started in 2017 thanks to the support of a network of national partners and funders convened as SPARCC (pronounced “spark,” and an acronym for the Strong Prosperous And Resilient Communities Challenge). Besides Chicago, SPARCC supported another five cities: Atlanta, Denver, the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles, and Memphis. SPARCC closed in 2022, leaving a meaningful legacy in all cities, including Chicago.
Locally, a Leadership Council — composed of key decision makers and investors in Chicago’s built environment — helps advance our systems change agenda.
Elevated Chicago is committed to five values:
- Adaptability – we work on complex issues in a changing environment that requires us to exercise agility and constant adjustment.
- Impact – our approach is data-driven, results-oriented, and asset-based in order to make visible and meaningful change on the ground.
- Inclusion – our collaborative approach acknowledges, embraces, and leverages the diversity of our communities in order to achieve better, more efficient and equitable results.
- Innovation – building on community traditions and established best practices, we nurture creative experimentation, take risks, and see failures as opportunities to learn.
- Transparency – we make our decisions openly and responsibly, communicate clearly, and keep each other mutually accountable.
We began with a simple goal: to assemble a community of organizers and experts around the idea of building a more racially equitable Chicago, as part of a national movement catalyzed by the Strong, Prosperous and Resilient Communities Challenge, or SPARCC. SPARCC sought to identify six regions across the U.S. that could take on a complex challenge: Impacting their built environments by applying a racial equity lens to urban planning and development, transit, public health, arts and culture, sustainability and more.
A small group of community builders, developers and funders gathered to discuss which Chicago organizations could be tapped to form a collaborative tenacious enough to take on the big issues affecting development in Chicago’s communities of color: gentrification, depopulation, disinvestment, lack of trust and flawed narratives.
Elevated Chicago launched with funding from SPARCC, which chose Chicago as one of its six national sites. Our organizing group formalized the operating structure – leadership by a diverse Steering Committee – and hired founding program director Roberto Requejo. By year end, our name and logo were official, we had awarded our first grants for community-led activation around CTA station areas, and we hosted our first symposium on equitable transit-oriented development (ETOD).
Systems Change, one of our three Working Groups, began advocating for an expanded TOD policy in Chicago, focused on adding 20 highly utilized bus corridors, many that traversed Black and Brown communities on Chicago’s South and West sides. We released our first workplan articulating our funding and advocacy priorities through 2021. We sponsored arts, climate and cultural resilience activation events in several of our eHubs, the half-mile radius around specific transit stations. We assembled a capital pipeline of community-driven ETOD projects in need of predevelopment support, including the Overton Center of Excellence in Bronzeville, Latinos Progresando’s Community Center in Little Village, and the Emmett Street apartments in Logan Square. Marly Schott joined our staff as program associate, and we welcomed our first intern, Amorita Falcon.
Our program director and several Steering Committee members were appointed to transition committees for then Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot, weaving ETOD into recommendations for the new administration’s approach to planning, development, housing and public health. To begin developing ETOD Policy Plan recommendations for the City, we formed an ETOD Working Group that grew to 80 people representing citywide and community-based groups from the public, private and nonprofit sectors. We explored redlining’s history and impact by sponsoring the Chicago showing of “Undesign the Redline,” a national exhibit of Enterprise Community Partners. We hosted SPARCC’s three-day convening of 80 people from six cities. And, we celebrated community progress, including: a Community Benefits Agreement in Logan Square to ensure that a hotel developer would hire from the neighborhood and pay above minimum wage; the reimagining of Overton Elementary School in Washington Park into a community hub for healthy food, arts and technology; the opening of The Hatchery; and the expansion of 345 Gallery in Garfield Park. Our intern was Alex Perez. Read our 2019 highlights here.
In the wake of the twin crises of the global pandemic and racial injustices, we pivoted our 2018-2019 workplan to focus on 10 priorities including mutual aid and solidarity in the transit hubs we support, safe and frequent transit for essential workers, walkability efforts, education on the key role of transit and density to recover from the pandemic, and others. We launched walkability studies with the Institute for Housing Studies at DePaul University and the Public Health Institute of Metropolitan Chicago. We issued new, flexible grants, sought more partners, and developed new outreach tactics for systems change, including vibrant graphics to show what ETOD looks like, developed by JNJ Creative. We worked with Rudd Resources to produce our first virtual symposium, featuring virtual bike tours of eHubs, poetry along the Green Line, and live streaming from the CTA Red Line terminal at 95th/Dan Ryan. Our interns were Caleb Herod and Sabrina de La Vega. See our COVID-19 and Racial Justice Crises Themes and Priorities, read our 2020 highlights, view our three-year report or watch our virtual symposium.
The impact of COVID-19 on communities of color in Chicago (and globally) buoyed our commitment to ETOD. Equitable development became a necessary tool for the city’s recovery, particularly in Black and Brown neighborhoods. We launched our first cohort of Equitable Development Ambassadors, which demystified how things are built in Chicago and offered tools for advocacy for more equitable neighborhood development. We socialized, amplified and rallied for our ETOD Policy Plan recommendations, in collaboration with the City of Chicago’s Mayor’s Office, and in mid-year, we saw the policy plan be unanimously approved by the Chicago Plan Commission. We also invited community-based developers to submit proposals for our first ETOD Policy Plan pilot projects; 28 groups applied and 11 were selected to receive funding and technical assistance to support the development of affordable housing, community centers, small businesses, cultural venues, and public art near public transit. In the fall, Chicago’s City Council approved $10 million in earmarks for ETOD. Later, the Chicago Dept. of Housing announced $1 billion in planned affordable housing investments for 24 projects, of which 75% will be transit-oriented. Roberto Requejo, named one of Chicago’s Power 30 by Chicago Magazine was promoted to Executive Director, and Marly Schott was promoted to Manager. Our intern was Genevieve LaMarr LeMee. Read our 2021 highlights here.
Our 2022-2024 workplan articulates our current investment, programmatic and advocacy priorities. Click here to open the workplan poster. We held our second cohort of the Equitable Development Ambassadors, which was awarded a City of Chicago Gold Trumpet in the competitive community relations category. Additionally, the 2021 ETOD Symposium won a Silver Trumpet in the virtual special events category. The Connected Communities Ordinance, an ordinance aiming to increase housing opportunities near transit, improve street and sidewalk safety, and create and connect jobs, passed with 36 votes of approval from City Council. This was a pivotal win for ETOD in Chicago. As SPARCC came to a close, we celebrated the journey with our partner cities with a homecoming celebration in New Orleans. Elevated Chicago also presented at the 2022 Rail~Volution conference on how ETOD gets done in Chicago. We convened our 2022 ETOD Symposium, highlighting the connections to ETOD and public health, and we celebrated milestones of ETODs supported by our grants and technical assistance, including the groundbreaking of the Latinos Progresando community center near the CTA’s California Pink Line station, and of affordable housing for seniors and individuals with disabilities in Homan Square; the grand opening of the Lucy Parsons Gonzalez Apartments adjacent to the Logan Square station, and the first home sold by the Here to Stay Land Trust. Jannice Newson joined our team as Coordinator and Victor Roa was our intern.