Lifting Up Community Power In Chicago Through Equitable Transit-Oriented Development

In Chicago, a network of neighborhood groups is challenging the combined forces of neglect and gentrification pressuring Black and Brown communities to leave valuable neighborhoods near transit hubs.

Elevated Chicago (Elevated) is a collaborative of neighborhood-based and regional partners—representing the private, public, and nonprofit sectors—dedicated to transforming the half-mile radius around transit stations into vibrant centers of commerce, culture, and social interaction without displacing current residents (this type of urban development is called equitable transit-oriented development, or e-TOD). With a core emphasis on racial equity, arts and culture, climate change resiliency, and public health, Elevated Chicago is bringing the vision of eTOD to seven transit stations and neighborhoods. It is one of the Strong, Prosperous, And Resilient Communities Challenge (SPARCC) sites, another multi-funder initiative investing in and amplifying local efforts underway in six regions to ensure that new investments reduce racial disparities, build a culture of health, and prepare for a changing climate. Funding from Convergence Partnership in 2018 and 2019 augmented an existing Elevated grant from the SPARCC, providing essential resources to support racial equity and collaboration grants to engage even more community-based partners and stakeholders.    

Elevated leveraged Convergence Partnership funding in 2018 and 2019 to provide direct and flexible resources for their community-based grassroots partners, who are largely organizations led by and serving people of color in low-income communities. Elevated was able to double their Racial Equity grants to $100K annually to support the participation of grassroots neighborhood stakeholders on the Elevated Steering Committee, and to bolster community engagement activities directly connecting the voices and power of people of color with the priorities in the Elevated work plan. Examples of the diverse ways Elevated sites have used these funds include advocacy on affordable housing led by and coordinated by residents to claim ownership of communities that are rapidly gentrifying; and providing incentives, stipends, meals, and childcare to engage residents and acknowledge the value of their participation in community meetings and gatherings. Convergence funding was used to strengthen the collaboration infrastructure and provide further resources to Elevated’s various Community Tables (collaborations of neighborhood organizations) to build trust and lasting relationships. Community Table partners acknowledged that they would not be able to participate in such a sustained collaboration effort without this funding, and at least two of the Community Tables would not exist but for these funds. Elevated also developed a racial equity, diversity, and inclusion curriculum pilot for the staff of two Chicago city agencies to expand the integration of an equity lens into local government policymaking and practices. Elevated’s work to amplify grassroots engagement has resulted in appointments to the Mayor’s Transportation and Infrastructure Transition Committee, placing racial diversity, equity, and inclusion at the center of a better-connected Chicago.