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City’s 10-year planning proposal aims to address old wrongs

City officials Thursday published the draft of a planning document that is intended to guide policy decisions in Chicago for the next 10 years.

The document, “We Will Chicago,” is drawn from comments during nearly 200 meetings around the city over the last two years and provides a vision for Chicago’s future with overarching themes of equity and community involvement.

The city has had no such forward-looking outlook since the 1960s, and “We Will Chicago” is the first to acknowledge past injustices harming mostly Black and Brown neighborhoods.

The report’s title refers to Chicago’s “I will” motto.

Publication of the 148-page draft will start a public hearing process for feedback that will last through the fall. A revised version will then be submitted to the Chicago Plan Commission for adoption in early 2023.

The document and a calendar of community meetings is available at WeWillChicago.com.

“We are excited that this process has been so people-driven, resident-driven,” said Skyler Larrimore, Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s first deputy director of policy. “We hope that when Chicagoans read this draft, they can envision a Chicago that is more equitable and resilient.”

In a video statement, Lightfoot said the document will represent a “collective vision” about the city’s priorities, and be a guide for future budgets and capital spending.

“My team and I knew it was important to look back as we look forward and recognize our city’s history of policies, programs and investments that have both caused and exacerbated challenges like racial and social inequity,” Lightfoot said.

Accordingly, the plan presents data showing the impact of redlining in mortgage loans, the differences in wealth and health across neighborhoods, the preponderance of pollution in poor areas and other measurements that distinguish the haves from the have-nots in the city. Officials said its preparation, which involved the Metropolitan Planning Council and meeting documenters from the City Bureau organization, cost $4 million.

The community process is designed to build trust so Chicagoans know of each other’s commitment to a better city, officials said.

It steers clear of specific recommendations, which might frustrate critics. But they should instead consider how the plan’s broad goals fit with the mayor’s current priorities, such as the Invest South/West program to steer investments to neglected communities, Larrimore said.

Kathy Dickhut, deputy planning commissioner, said the document reflects the views of residents about problems they’ve experienced for decades and “reflects the future for people we usually don’t have at the table to come up with these ideas.”

The “We Will Chicago” recommendations are organized around eight categories: Arts and culture; civic and community engagement; economic development; environment, climate and energy; housing and neighborhoods; lifelong learning; public health and safety; and transportation and infrastructure.

The categories lead to more than 40 recommendations of varying complexity, such as providing more public input for the city budgeting process, broadening access to arts programs and preventing the displacement of longtime residents when neighborhoods change.

The document’s planned adoption in 2023 and the community meetings behind it mean a schedule that coincides with the mayor’s reelection campaign. City planning officials said there is no political aim to the document.

They also said it’s intended to survive any single administration to influence the next.

“This is what cities do. This is how cities manage their future,” Dickhut said. “I can’t say why we didn’t do it before but it’s something that is overdue.”

While “We Will Chicago” does not require City Council ratification, specific spending programs drawn from its recommendations will need legislative approval.

Over the next few months, city planners hope to engage with 1,000 people in each ward to collect feedback, Department of Planning and Development Assistant Commissioner Gabriela Jirasek said.

Recordings of prior meetings about the effort are included on the city’s website.

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