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Fall 2020 – CDI Sessions: Active Listening in Community Development Processes

At last, we’ve made it through to the end of the community engagement sessions! These last few weeks have just flown by. As we’ve been preparing for, the formats for community engagement involved three modes: virtual, in-person, and DIY kits. You can read about what these entailed in the previous blog post. MPC hosted a few sessions within each mode, offering neighborhood residents multiple opportunities to participate and share feedback on the site’s future development.

Image description: A drone-perspective panning around a 3D model of stacked yellow, red, and pink blocks, lined by modeled trees along the represented sidewalk.

Across October 8 & 14, MPC hosted three virtual sessions for community members to engage with City Open facilitators on Zoom and with SketchUp. When the pandemic is over (one day?) I hope that virtual forms of engagement will continue to be a regular offering - the ease and comfort of sitting at home without the need to commute to a site is hard to beat. By negating commute time and access, the hope was these events were more easily accessed. Opinions definitely differed in what the neighborhood needs and how to develop the site, but some clear common threads appeared. By the end of the last session, it seemed that there was a bit of organizing from the Hello Howard and Peterson Gardens - there were a couple folks from the gardens in every session, advocating to maintain the two plots as much as possible.

Image description: A socially distanced and masked group of people stand around a table introducing themselves, in front of a brick building with morning sun casting shadows across the chalk-covered sidewalk.

We had the in-person workshop on October 10 outside at Gale Elementary, just adjacent to the site. The day was a sunny Saturday morning with bright-eyed volunteers and lots of posters, boards, and wood blocks. Walking in, participants had to sign a waiver (thanks corona) and were given orange and green stickers to hold on to for later. The first half of each session was spent setting up context. We talked through other related or similar projects to get a sense of how large a space might be. Using the colored stickers, we asked what kinds of things should or should not be in Rogers Park (no Amazon lockers, that’s for sure!). The precedents and programs helped give participants something to respond to, something to bounce ideas directly off of, which generated plenty of conversation and helped City Open volunteers get to know Rogers Park as locals did. Moving over to the physical blocks exercise, there was a slight reluctance to build larger on the site, despite discussing lots of programming ideas just previously. A recurring comment was that there are plenty of vacant storefronts, offices, and other infrastructure around the area that could be better utilized rather than building on top of the developed gardens.

Lastly we’re still collecting DIY kits, but have had a couple submissions. Although all kits were distributed that first week, we have yet to receive a majority of them back.

Image description: Stacked yellow-color-coded foam blocks and green paper on top of red and black color-coded foam blocks, placed on a printed site map.

While there was an exciting tumble of ideas generated from each session, there are many things to improve on for next steps. It was painfully clear that we had missed people - The general attendance appeared to lean heavily toward white, long-time homeowners; for how diverse Rogers Park as a neighborhood really is, this is a skewed sample of participants. Specifically, no one from the operating refugee gardens attended. In addition, each of the sessions consistently had more volunteers than participants. Of those volunteers, a majority of us are not from the neighborhood, a fact that many of the residents immediately noticed and pointed out. During the first in-person session, one resident pointed out that while the CDI process is intended to prevent large developers from swooping in on a site and displacing residents, there is also a lot of community distrust toward the City government.

Still, the work City Open participants put together is incredible and after all the planning and discussion, it was so cool to see everything come together. The next steps are to distill down what we heard and make sure we document everything. While City Open’s direct involvement with the CDI is officially over, we want to be able to hand MPC a compiled guide of everything we’ve discussed. Keep track of updates on City Open’s website and MPC’s here.


LOUISA ZHENG is a designer interested in social impact and community participatory processes.


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