In addition to yardsigns and photographs, this project involves some people who wrote vision statements about what their long-term visions for the city are. They are presented below and are organized according to ward.
Visions For Chicago:
William Ayers, 4th Ward:
I want to build an educated city, a school without walls where we can live in search of, rather than in accommodation to. I want us to accept ourselves as works-in-progress, searching and unfinished, on the move in a dynamic, going world, with Chicago as our commons, our performance space, and our workshop.
De-couple education from schooling: all human beings are learning from birth until death—learning, like eating and breathing, is entirely natural. It’s wasteful to think of education as a K-12 affair, or to think of education as preparation for life rather than life itself.
I want a city poised to learn more in order to achieve more in terms of human enlightenment and freedom.
An educated city would take seriously the notion that residents are the sovereign, neither objects to manipulate nor subjects to be ruled. Education, formal and informal, would become focused on the creation of public citizens.
Schools would be places where the dreams, aspirations, knowledge, and skills of youth are sensible starting points for learning, where democracy is practiced rather than ritualized.
Imagine how much safer, livelier, and more peaceful our communities would become if we reorganized education in this fundamental way—instead of keeping children isolated in classrooms, engage them in community- building activities with audacity and vision: planting community gardens, recycling waste, creating alternative transportation and work sites, naming and protesting injustices around them, organizing neighborhood arts and health festivals, broadcasting a radio show, rehabbing houses, painting public murals. By giving children and young people a reason to learn beyond the individualistic goal of getting a job and making more money, by encouraging them to exercise their minds and their hearts and their soul power, we would tap into the deep well of human values that gives life shape and meaning.
Theaster Gates, 5th Ward:
My vision for Chicago and so much of what I am invested in has to do with believing in things. My work on Dorchester Avenue is, in many ways, about the need to make things happen where one lives and to believe that it is, indeed, possible to do so; imagining that the center is ever flexible and having the courage to create new centers. For so long, my time was spent chasing all of the other centers in the city. I lived a life where I always assumed that where I was from and what I was doing locally was not important. Once tired, I came to realize that my energy was a large part of the necessary energy that made those “other centers” central. I want my neighborhood, my block, my home, to be added to the list of important places. I want to give energy, conversation, additional culture, and dignity to the places that first gave it to me.
Almost jokingly, I started to talk about Dorchester as if it was some thing—a project that others had to believe in because I did. Whether I believed it or not in the beginning, the energy that is now generated around this thing makes me want to maintain, perpetuate, and add to it. I want Dorchester to be added to the set of emerging practices that anchor places and ideas in cities, forgotten spaces, and unidentified buildings—where people decide that, because I am here and because I believe, things are possible. That belief becomes layered: belief in one’s own ability; belief in the potential of things; belief that others will aid and that help is always around; and belief in my neighbors’ commitment to their spaces and their belief in the work being done.
Our location and presence in Grand Crossing is central to why Dorchester Projects exists and continues to thrive; it proves that creative activity can have huge consequence in some of Chicago’s most underserved communities.
Peter Zelchenko, 5th Ward:
Our City Council, entrenched in a bureaucratic Machine mindset, has been too weak and corrupt to give the social concerns of the city attention. While wearing the garb of progressive thinking, the city’s middle and upper classes have been ideologically subsumed into the selfish belief system of the traditional ethnocentric working-class Machine narrative that Mayor Daley reduced to a corporate science during his tenure. Rahm Emanuel promises no changes to that trend.
The results of this insensitive philosophy can be seen throughout the support systems of the city. Schools, transit, traffic, police, health care, elections, and many other things have all undergone gradual changes that have reaped great improvements for the middle and upper classes, but regressions for the rest. The classes are oblivious to these changes because things happened piecemeal and the people do not have any patience for history.
We need a social message to permeate this city: that these asymmetries are supported by choices made by the privileged classes, and so it is our actions that are hurting those in this city who are less fortunate than we are. Real lives and livelihoods — hundreds of thousands of them — are very much at stake. A coordinated widespread message explaining this problem will guide us to the changes we need.
David Stovall, 8th Ward:
My vision of Chicago is one where low-income families of color are guaranteed the same rights to the city as their more affluent counterparts. In education specifically, this would include (but is not limited to) a democratically elected representative school board, a moratorium on Charter Schools or any other public-private educational partnerships, repairing the physical plant of existing schools, and the building of new schools with priority given to neighborhood schools. Extending the support of low-income student and family educational needs, this would include funding for the training of local school councils (LSCs) by community organizations (part of the original vision of LSCs) and support for new teachers in their first 3 years of teaching. Lastly, a vision such as this would include transparency in Tax Incremental Financing (TIFs) for the purpose of getting historically under-resourced, underfunded, disinvested communities what they need instead of the central business district.
Vinay Ravi, 11th Ward:
A comment I hear more and more amongst progressives is “we all know what we are against, but what are we for.” In other words, what we lack as a movement is vision. I don’t disagree, but I would qualify that before we can paint visions worthy of the adjective “emancipatory,” we still need to learn to say “no” in louder, bolder, and more popular ways. Our movement is full of visions and indeed visionaries. But a vision can only go as deep as the struggle from which it arises. For Chicago, the principles that those of us on the Left/progressive/radical spectrum hold in common are both simple and powerful: equality, justice, dignity, etc. Everyday, in a thousand different ways, we are putting these principles to work in ongoing battles to reshape the city—organizing in schools, workplaces, prisons, streets, etc. And many times we win those battles. But freedom demands winning at a different level; we must win in ways that actually change the rules of the game. No one should pretend to have figured out how to do this, but what is true is that nothing new is possible in the city, as in the world, without large numbers of people rushing to take bold and courageous action. We need more revolts. Perhaps recent events have made me unduly optimistic, but the idea of popular revolt does not seem as distant as it once did. We have been touched by the struggles of people near and far converging in streets to collectively decide their destiny— not simply to protest. My vision for now is simply this: find a familiar stranger—a neighbor, a co-worker, a classmate, somebody you ride the El with—and imagine them in those streets with you. Now let’s work backwards.
Salem Collo-Julin, 16th Ward:
The city is made, forgotten, and made again,
trucks hauling it away haul it back
steered by drivers whistling ragtime
against the sunsets.
Every day the people get up and carry the city,
carry the bunkers and balloons of the city,
lift it and put it down.
-(excerpts from “The Windy City,” a poem by Carl Sandburg)
In the morning, when I look out the window of my apartment, I see the prying eyes of the gossipy crossing guard, the small hands holding big hands as cars stop-and-drop off little ones to the (extra) legal day care in the house across my street; I see last night’s ridiculous parking jobs, and the branches of a tree that should have been pruned last year but now sits in wait of the moment when it can release its breath and fall over, down on top of all of this, full with its own visions of this block. I imagine the tree is the only objective witness to the legends and myths I have heard about this place, like the Texas-style honky tonk that used to live where Mom’s convenience store is (and incidentally is the only place on the block to buy looseys and maybe that’s an indicator that Mom’s will be gone someday too – you certainly can’t go home again, they said, but left out the part after that, that the reason you can’t go home again is because they’re all dead, they’ve fallen over after pushing out that last breath in a satisfied sigh of gasp – but the reality is that not a lot of people around here smoke like they used to, let alone even know what a loosey is, and most people drive so can you really call it a food desert if the inhabitants have found a caravan to the Food 4 Less?).
I imagine the tree is the one thing around here that could tell me if cows really ran down Racine to escape the Stockyards, and if sometimes the kids would see a wrangler, riding on his white horse, chasing after a cow, stopping ten-year-old streetball traffic in his lustrous cowboy wake. That’s the story the guy at the bar downtown told me, about his childhood neighborhood, the neighborhood that fifty years later is my current neighborhood. Was the horse really white or is that just what we do to all our memories? I live down the street from one of the entrances to where the stockyards that Sandburg wrote about, the same stockyards that ferried Sinclair’s The Jungle from an almost romantic mystery to a national conversation. Families who were tied to the yards in some way, workers, immigrants, all used to live here. The building I live in used to have a bar in it that served workers day and night.
My neighborhood still has workers living in it, and hustlers, and a lot of things are the same as they were. Still economically marginalized, still diverse racially in a way that is more visible than in other neighborhoods but by no means comfortable, still with strict borders like the gates on the Stockyards and gang corners, still confused for other things. When you hear the right old stories, without the white horse, you see a picture of a neighborhood that looks just like ours. Sometimes that’s a great picture – it mimics yesterday morning, when I saw a couple of kids spontaneously using the empty lot kitty-corner from us for a baseball game. Sometimes, it’s a picture we don’t want or need – like the drug house that popped up here a few months ago, mimicking the desperation (rather than decadence) that I presume was the sweaty smell of speakeasies back in the day. An older acquaintance of mine once waxed nostalgic about the idea of the “beat cop,” that police professional that would literally walk his “beat” and stand around looking for trouble to solve. I reminded him then, and remind you now, that “cop” and “beat” are two words that usually work together to describe a situation no one wants to be involved in. Nostalgia isn’t always a good thing. All those cows around here must have made the place smell like shit.
I want a Chicago without rape, without domestic violence or child or family abuse because a world without those things would be a first, second, third step along the path. I want a Chicago where everyone can choose where they want to live and thrive there. I want a Chicago with a maximum wage, so that certain people can’t prevent other people from living and then try to convince the rest of us that the other people should blame it on themselves. I want a Chicago that breathes, lives, supports and cherishes its spiritual, health, cultural, and educational workers in a way that isn’t bullshit and patronizing. I want a Chicago that I don’t always feel like I have to pre- explain with “…that’s the way it is.” I want people in all communities to stop pretending that gender, race, and sexual orientation have anything to do with where we should live, what we should “get”, or who we should talk to.
Every day we do, as Sandburg writes, get up and carry the weight of our city. My vision is that some of us start redistributing this weight. In my vision, we all wake in the morning and look out the window to see the whole city, we realize that each of our actions and decisions – from where we choose to live, what schools our children attend, how we transport ourselves physically and psychically – affect each other and each other’s neighborhoods. Each step that we muster on this road is not on a racetrack or a mountain. We are never going to reach the top or win this leg. We’re not competing, we’re just living.
Maximiliano Benitez, 26th Ward (Chicago native, writing from Austin Tx):
Chicagoans need a Worldwide Busspass. Kanye and Obama have the opportunity spread Chicago’s unique culture and so should all of its heads. In exchange, the world needs a Chi-town Visa. People from all of over the globe should continue energizing our city too.
Anybody who spends good time here develops the Chi State of Mind. It’s an urbane idealism, an ability to conceive and accomplish bright ideas while navigating harsh circumstances.
From Grant Park’s protests to the Green Mill’s poetry, Chicago has been a stage for historic movements. Our culture takes a trend and turns it on its ear. Now, rappers and graffiti artists run for city council because Chicagoans consistently innovate and make waves.
My greatest vision and hope for Chicago is that its spirit spreads farther than ever because all of its people have become as mobile as those in the highest echelons of its diverse fields of influence. From finance to footwork, the world deserves the full potential of Chicago’s impact.
My vision is that across all demographics, Chicagoans become the most well-traveled people on the planet. More and more of our small business people and community artists will visit and settle other places. They will use the lessons of Chicago, the pain and the progress, to invigorate movements everywhere.
Amanda Klonsky, 35th Ward:
I imagine a day when Jane Addams’ vision for the juvenile court is fulfilled, and it is a place of healing and restoration for children and families. Children will no longer be held in the Cook County Juvenile Deten- tion Center, but will instead receive intensive therapeutic services in their communities and at their public schools. Neither homelessness nor mental illness will be a legitimate reason to hold children and adolescents in jail. We will have more than enough shelter for children who need it, including safe, respectful community schools with living options for those students who would not otherwise have a safe place to live.
Public schools in each neighborhood will be the kind of schools we want to send our children to; their hallways will buzz with the lively voices of excited children, or we will find teenagers sitting in comfortable chairs, reading books in their free time. Neighborhood schools will be the kinds of small, intimate learning environments where teachers know all of the students’ names and families. When there are conflicts, these teachers will know how to manage discipline without involving police. Teachers’ rights and dignity will be respected, as will the rights and dignity of parents and children.
These schools will include spaces where young people want to hang out after school, into the evening, making art, taking dance classes, participating in writing workshops, getting help with homework, eating healthy meals. Schools will be open as a resource for parents and community members day and night, a place to find support with parenting, safety, warmth in the winter, good books, friends, medical care and food.
B. Loewe, 35th Ward:
Right now, we live in two Chicago’s. One is Mayor Daley’s & State Street’s, marked by the shining condos that sit empty throughout our city with high-priced parking meters and police cameras blinking on every corner. The other, being nurtured from below, works on the daily and struggles to keep open our mental health clinics and libraries, to keep families in their homes, and to demand recognition for the city’s residents no matter what country they’re from.
We celebrate a Chicago for the People, not the banks, not the Olympics, not for Daley. We want the city that works to be the city that works for everyone.
Elise Zelechowski, 35th Ward:
Neighborhoods with stable local economies, access to living wage jobs and safe places to gather.
Adam Kader, 47th Ward:
For the masses who do the city’s labor also keep the city’s heart. —Nelson Algren
My vision for Chicago includes working people’s organizations— neighborhood associations, local school councils, tenants’ associations, labor unions—cultivating the commons. I envision our city in which children enjoy their right to attend their neighborhood schools, served by parents on independent local school councils. Tenants’ associations attend fellow public housing residents’ needs and neighborhood organizations ensure that City Hall maintains safe streets, parks, and gardens.
My vision for Chicago’s future mirrors visions from the city’s past: Mayor Harold Washington’s vision of balanced development, the I.W.W.’s vision of the unity of all working people, and The City Beautiful Movement’s vision of open and public space and the 1909 plan for Chicago’s iconic lakefront being “forever free and clear.”
My vision for Chicago is a city in which public spaces and goods have been returned to the public. My vision for Chicago is a city that balances development of the Loop with development of the neighborhoods. The neighborhood is where the working people who have made “The City That Works” reside. It is where the migrants from the American south and the immigrants from around the world settled and built their places of worship, their restaurants, and their music clubs. The neighborhood is, in short, the heart of Chicago. But in a patronage ward system, not all neighborhoods are equally resourced and served. Paired with geographic segregation, the result is the systematic inequality between social groups. I envision a future of shared mobility and shared prosperity among the neighborhoods.
Mark Shipley, 48th Ward:
That there become some empowered force that connects urban and suburban people with the joy, beauty, and necessity of food and farming culture. That an agricultural/horticultural movement arises to offer solid, meaningful, and pragmatic alternatives to chronic urban poverty. That farming be included in the local discourse as a viable form of job creation and economic development. That consciousness of race and class problems merge with consciousness of health and environmental problems. That a series of collective farms arise in the greater metropolitan area that offer inspiration, work, community, economy, and spiritual fulfillment to young urbanites and suburbanites. That there be a movement toward restorative architecture in Chicago. That natural building no longer be a marginal idea, but a quickly growing sector. That food be served on the street as it is in hundreds of other global cities. That most residents begin to vote in local elections and vote in their interests. That we begin seeking practical, time-tested, and inexpensive solutions to our crises rather than technological, hierarchical, and plutocratic ones. That affordable, supportive, healthy and delicious dinner clubs thrive in every neighborhood. That public health be centered around food, walking, and clean air and water. That everyone can easily get anywhere on quiet efficient, well-funded public transit. That people peel themselves away from their personal electronic devices. That the water stop being fluoridated. That the nuclear and coal power plants are no longer, and we receive ALL of our energy from renewable sources. That young people become building stewards and treat their homes as they would treat family members. That there be widespread outrage against injustice. That Rahm Emanuel get his just desserts. That we start caring about segregation and desegregate. That we all stand up for ourselves and each other and realize MLK’s dream.
Carrie Spitler, 48th Ward:
I have a vision for Chicago that includes…
- investment in all of our neighborhoods
- hands-on art-making opportunities
- diversity and health within and across our ecosystems
- locally-driven community development that benefits local residents
- respect for new voices and different perspectives
- health care for all
- cross-cultural communities, respect, and dialogue
- freedom from violence and freedom from fear
- urban agriculture
- artistic performance
- jobs and living wages for all
- affordable and accessible food systems
- economic security
- an unbiased justice system with alternatives to incarceration
- a meaningful recycling program along with reducing and reusing all types of materials
- clean air and water
- abundant mental health services
- independent thinking
- equitable distribution of wealth
- renewable energy and decreased consumption
- equal access for people with disabilities
- vibrant, informed, engaged, healthy, creative citizens
Chicago will be a place where public education will be re-imagined, re-energized, and redefined through the arts. Theater, music, visual arts, media arts, creative writing, and dance will be central activities in all neighborhood schools from pre-school through high school. These programs will be free and available to every student attending Chicago Public Schools.
The city’s motto of “Garden in the City” will be the second primary focus of the school curriculum. Every school will have a garden and planting program. Students will learn about nutrition and health through horticulture transforming everything from the food served at school lunch programs to the availability of fresh, low-cost produce for students’ families.
Both gardening, the greening of urban space and arts programming will be extended to each ward in the city. Vacant lots will become orchards and community gardens, abandoned buildings will become cultural centers with programs for all ages.
Jobs training for underemployed youth and the re-skilling of the unemployed will be central to the extension of these arts and garden community programs. Returning veterans will also be given priority to participate in cultural and garden programs as a transition from military to civilian life.
Frank Edwards, 49th Ward:
I want to live in a city that prioritizes everybody’s safety and recognizes that punishment doesn’t make our communities safer. The city we live in today only seems to worry about whether certain kinds of people feel safe. The city has built an elaborate system designed to assuage the fears that white people have of Chicago’s communities of color. It does this through putting police in schools, harassing young (and old) people of color on the street, and destroying thousands of families every year through incarcerating parents, children and adults important to young people’s lives. This system doesn’t make anyone safer.
The Chicago I want to live in recognizes that strong communities make everyone safer. Investments in community centers, after school programs, the arts, schools, jobs and libraries would be a great start to building community safety. This Chicago would defund the Audy Home, Cook County Jail, the state prisons, and the Chicago Police and reinvest those savings in the communities that have been starved for resources for a hundred years. Great things can happen when communities try to rebuild and people start talking to each other.
Mariame Kaba, 49th Ward:
After moving from New York City to Chicago over 15 years ago, I can’t imagine living anywhere else now. The city of “Big Shoulders” has converted another person to her charms. What I love about Chicago is that it is both a big city and a small town. If you are an activist or organizer, there is no better place to live. Chicago has its share of social problems including entrenched racial segregation, poverty, and injustice. Yet we are also blessed in this city to be the birth place of modern community organizing. The individuals and organizations that are committed to social change and transformation have no rivals anywhere.
So as a new Mayor steps into political leadership in Chicago, it is worth reflecting on our own visions for this city’s future. Even before I knew who Ella Baker was, I had a Bakerian sensibility. What I mean by this is that I believe strongly that movement-building is the key to addressing our social problems and to getting more justice. I also agree with Baker that “strong people don’t need strong leaders.” I envision a Chicago where more spaces are built for popular education. Informed community members who can connect their knowledge to concrete actions will be less dependent on the vagaries of the new political leadership. I envision a Chicago where artists and organizers continue to collaborate to tell stories about how social change can and does happen every single day. The old ways of organizing must give way to more creative ideas and efforts to engage our citizens. I envision a Chicago where true intergenerational organizing is taking place across issue areas. I want more places like the Chicago Freedom School to be birthed across the city. I envision a city where we focus on transformative justice as the lens for addressing violence and crime. Thousands of Chicagoans are locked up behind bars across the state. I want to see the prison industrial complex dismantled in our city. Ultimately, I hope to continue to play a role in making this vision a reality.