Resilience is not a new concept for Chicagoans.
Time and again, the city has proven its ability to take on challenges and achieve unprecedented accomplishments. After the Great Fire of 1871, Chicago residents helped the city rise from the ashes and rebuilt a stronger, smarter, and reimagined urban landscape with innovations such as the modern skyscraper. With the reversal of the Chicago River in 1900, Chicago took a critical step to protect the city’s supply of clean drinking water and Lake Michigan. Chicago since has taken bold steps to ensure that the city is well positioned to respond to shocks – such as heat waves and blizzards – and stresses – such as crime, violence, and poverty.
This record, along with a host of extraordinary assets, has positioned Chicago to support more resilient communities for all its residents. Chicago’s location along Lake Michigan provides both an abundance of fresh water, and a host of economic and recreational opportunities. The city’s central location has long made it the crossroads of America’s transportation system, as well as reducing its susceptibility to the effects of climate change and natural disasters such as wildfires, hurricanes, and rising sea levels. As home to more than 400 major corporations, Chicago has one of the most diversified urban economies in the United States, with no single industry employing more than 14 percent of the city’s workforce.
Despite all of Chicago’s strengths, the city still faces many challenges. A rich history of migration and immigration has undoubtedly shaped the character and vibrancy of Chicago’s neighborhoods, yet discriminatory practices and policies have caused disparities that disproportionately burden the city’s most vulnerable residents. These disparities, which often fall along geographic, racial, and socioeconomic lines, notably exist in the areas of public safety, economic opportunity, educational attainment, and transportation access, among numerous others.
Resilient Chicago seeks to address four principle challenges by creating a more connected city where residents, neighborhoods, institutions, corporations, and government agencies are successfully connected in pursuit of economic opportunity, safety, security, and sustainability for all. Together, the efforts outlined in this strategy serve to equip Chicago to face its challenges head on and prepare it for a future of success and growth.
Strong neighborhoods mean a strong Chicago.
Chicago has always been a city of neighborhoods. The bodegas, panaderias, and colorful murals of Pilsen, rich jazz history of Bronzeville, black-owned West Suburban Journal in Austin, and historic landmarks in Pullman are but a few examples of the distinct contributions of neighborhoods that make Chicago a diverse, vibrant, and world-class city. As the city changes over time, it is critical that all neighborhoods have the resources, support, and tools to thrive.
To this end, the City is committed to investing in its neighborhoods. Innovative initiatives like the Neighborhood Opportunity Fund, Retail Thrive Zones, and Chicago’s microlending program have injected resources and support into historically underserved neighborhoods on the South, Southwest, and West Sides. Employment opportunities are on the rise, and Chicago’s unemployment rate is at its lowest level in recorded history.
Chicago’s youth have benefited from these investments as well. The City has more than tripled its financial support for youth since the start of the decade, and today more young men and women across the city have access to after school activities, summer jobs, and mentors. Chicago has dramatically expanded access to early childhood education and made community college free for high school graduates who have earned at least a B average.
It is imperative that Chicago’s ongoing development be inclusive and that all neighborhoods share in the prosperity. This strategy section details specific goals and actions to promote stronger neighborhoods by ensuring that all Chicagoans – regardless of the zip code in which they reside – can participate in Chicago’s future. Examples include initiatives to develop skill sets for younger generations that will make up the city’s future workforce, connect local institutions with resources, and coordinate programs and policies to make them more accessible to residents.
A more connected Chicago is rooted in a robust infrastructure network.
Like many large cities, Chicago relies on an aging infrastructure for many of its critical services. Nearly one quarter of Chicago’s water mains are more than 100 years old, and the majority of its bridges were built before 1950. Despite ongoing City investments and the rapid emergence of new mobility providers, inequities in access to transit and transportation options persist. As the effects of climate change are realized, the City’s infrastructure investments must be made with extreme weather events – such as floods, heat waves, and blizzards – in mind. Any infrastructure network must simultaneously meet the current needs of residents, address emerging threats, and anticipate future opportunities.
Significant investments have already been made to support the city’s infrastructure needs – including Mayor Emanuel’s “Building a New Chicago” initiative that has bolstered park, water, transportation, and school infrastructure, and CTA enhancements such as the Red & Purple Line Modernization, “Your New Blue,” and the new Damen Green Line station that will improve service and reliability for transit riders.
Looking forward, the City will continue to examine where infrastructure investments are most needed and how to plan and coordinate these investments to ensure maximum impact. By making investments that strategically address multiple needs at once, the City can empower residents and communities that have suffered from historic disinvestment, limited opportunities, and other barriers to socioeconomic mobility.
For example, this pillar outlines new transportation and mobility options to be prioritized in neighborhoods traditionally disconnected from areas of economic prosperity, thereby supporting access to jobs and workforce development opportunities. Additional investments in green infrastructure can reduce the risk of flooding, while promoting healthier, more sustainable neighborhoods. These types of smart resource allocation decisions can have a lasting and positive effect on Chicago’s most vulnerable residents, building the city’s urban resilience in turn.
Finally, Chicago will remain a leader in addressing the existential threat of climate change. Whether through the Chicago Climate Charter, a compact signed by over 70 Mayors to reduce their local carbon emissions to target levels previously established under the Paris Agreement, or through the City’s commitment to power all public buildings using 100 percent renewable energy by 2025, Chicago is taking action now to protect the security and prosperity of generations to come.
Underlying every prepared community is a connected community.
As the “city of big shoulders,” Chicagoans take pride in their ability to rise to any challenge. Recent shock events in our history serve as a reminder that the city’s resilience hinges on the strength of the connections between residents, communities, and local government. Chicagoans must be able to access resources, avail themselves of services, and communicate with ease in times of crisis.
To this end, residents must be equipped with the relationships, skillsets, and knowledge base to anticipate and, when necessary, overcome challenging times. Community-driven initiatives – including efforts led by Austin Coming Together, Garfield Park Community Council, and West Humboldt Park Development Council to promote stormwater preparedness among residents – are examples of how local action can foster community resilience.
As technology becomes increasingly important to how residents connect with one another and local government, the current era of rapid technological change must work for all Chicagoans. To this end, the City has forged strong partnerships with public, private, and non-profit sectors to promote digital equity across the city’s communities.
Additionally, the City is making concrete investments in the tools it uses to connect with residents and is modernizing the ways in which these tools are used. In this pillar you will read about the City’s new Open311 system which, among other features, enables residents to create, track, and map service requests, submit photos, and provide feedback, bringing unprecedented levels of access, innovation, and accountability to the delivery of City services. The new Smart911 system enables residents to create a safety profile about their household so that first responders are better informed during an emergency.
Other actions which aim to create prepared communities are focused on enhancing communication channels with residents, reducing resident vulnerabilities to extreme weather, bolstering social connectedness, and leveraging technology to increase the accessibility and impact of information.