This edition of the MacArthur Foundation’s electronic newsletter is about the New Communities Program, a remarkable effort under way in Chicago to bring about comprehensive change in 16 of Chicago’s most challenged neighborhoods.  It is one of the most ambitious community redevelopment and revitalization efforts ever undertaken in a major American city. 

The New Communities Program is the centerpiece of the Foundation’s efforts in Chicago and benefits from a conscious effort to bring together elements of the Foundation’s other domestic grant activities: preservation of affordable rental housing, public housing transformation, public education, economic development, mental health, and juvenile justice. 

The underlying strategy of the New Communities Program is that it brings the energy of the public, private, and nonprofit sectors to bear on the redevelopment and revitalization of the 16 neighborhoods.  Coordinated by the Chicago Office of LISC, the Local Initiatives Support Corporation, it is based on plans for change crafted by the people and organizations from each community.

This is local work with important national implications.  It tests, on a major scale, the strategy of using resources in a coordinated and concentrated way, over an extended period of time, to improve entire neighborhoods.  The New Communities Program assembles a strategic mix of information, expertise, relationships, and resources, priming the pump for further public and private investment, connecting communities and their residents to the region’s economic mainstream.  

We hope you find this information useful and, as always, welcome your comments.



The New Communities Program—Comprehensive Change for 16 Chicago Neighborhoods
The New Communities Program as an Element of MacArthur’s Work in Communities
Planning from the Bottom Up—The Quality of Life Plans
About LISC—The Local Initiatives Support Corporation
The 16 Communities
A Closing Thought


he New Communities Program—Comprehensive Change for 16 Chicago Neighborhoods

On the morning of May 18, 2005, more than 500 people gathered at the Chicago Hilton to launch the New Communities Program, a comprehensive revitalization effort that that has the potential to bring about historic change in 16 of Chicago’s most challenged neighborhoods.  Community leaders presented “Quality of Life” plans for each of their neighborhoods to Mayor Richard M. Daley and MacArthur President Jonathan F. Fanton.

Joining Mayor Daley and President Fanton at the Hilton were members of  the Mayor’s administration, Chicago aldermen, state officials, other foundation leaders—and hundreds of neighborhood residents and representatives of community groups. The latter had worked for more than a year-and-a-half to develop “Quality of Life” plans that will serve as blueprints for change in each neighborhood.  As an article about the work in “Planning” magazine said:

“Bricks and mortar only get you so far.  To make a lasting, positive change in people’s lives, virtually every aspect of a neighborhood must be addressed: schools, employment, health care, public safety, recreation, and open space…the works.”

Voices of the New Communities Program
at the First Annual Leadership Assembly
of the New Communities Program

May 18, 2005

“Today, we write a new chapter in Chicago's history….This morning, we celebrate the (Daniel) Burnham in each of us….The track record now exists. The outcomes can be measured.  Can these plans be brought to life? The answer is a resounding, 'Yes.' ….If you can conceive it, you can achieve it.”—Community organizer Earnest Gates

"All of us will review it, seek to implement it, take the highest priorities, take your suggestions….One size doesn't fit all.  The creativity of a community, of one's mind, works much better. It isn't from a consultant who sits downtown and tells us what to do. It's from people like yourselves….I can build anything you want, but if we don't rebuild this public school system and tell the adults to take responsibility, it's all for naught….If we don't think outside the box, we will fail another generation. . . . That's what the New Communities Program is all about: thinking outside the box."—Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley

"That's what NCP is all about—stretching our vision, stretching our boundaries, stretching our faith in ourselves. Boy, have you stretched. It takes my breath away.Thousands have come together to plan for a common future and to accept responsibility for that future." –LISC Director Andrew Mooney

“We gather today to celebrate the Quality of Life plans for your neighborhoods. MacArthur is proud and privileged to support your work. You have articulated your visions with passion, clarity, and practical wisdom. Let us bear witness today to our common commitment to translate these plans into reality: healthy neighborhoods that reflect a standard of decency, fairness, and opportunity worthy of the richest society in all of human history.” (Click here for text) —MacArthur President Jonathan F. Fanton


Officially, the May 18 event was held to present the plans to the Mayor and to MacArthur Foundation President Jonathan Fanton, who embraced them with great enthusiasm.  But it also signaled the moment at which planning shifted to action.


The New Communities Program as an Element of MacArthur’s Work in Communities

The MacArthur Foundation’s Community Change grantmaking area is based on several assumptions, including the assumption that city neighborhoods are connected to regional markets and influenced by economic forces larger than those within the neighborhoods themselves; that at any given time, neighborhoods are in one stage or another of community renewal or decline; and that even in neighborhoods of concentrated poverty there are assets and untapped potential for recovery.  A further assumption is that the prospects for revitalizing communities are affected by conditions in adjacent communities, by the number and kind of local institutions in them, and by the social cohesion and trust that exists among residents.

The goal of the Foundation’s Community Change grantmaking is to produce measurable improvements in the quality of life in a mix of city neighborhoods, including improvements in community vitality, neighborhood safety, household income, and public and private investment.  A closely connected goal is to gather the lessons learned and share knowledge with others around the country engaged in urban development.


Planning from the Bottom up—The Quality of Life Plans<

The New Communities Program (NCP) now under way in Chicago traces its roots to work done in New York City during the 1990s to revitalize the South Bronx, whose remarkable turnaround has attracted national attention.  In Chicago, as in the Bronx, the Quality of Life planning process is central, not only for the plans that emerged but for the sense of  “ownership” of the plans by the people who live in each community.

Click here for a video overview of the Quality of Life plans.


The MacArthur Foundation’s initially committed $17.5 million over five years to the New Communities Program, administered through the Chicago office of LISC.  In turn, LISC identified community-based organizations to lead the Quality of Life planning process in 16 neighborhoods.  The funding enabled each of the lead agencies to hire an NCP director and an outreach organizer.  The consulting firm Camiros, Ltd. was hired to provide baseline data, land use maps, and planning expertise to help citizen-planners gauge their present situation and envision a brighter future.  LISC gave each neighborhood a “how to” handbook for community planning, as well as writers, called Scribes, to chronicle what was said and done at  community planning sessions and to help draft the final plans. Funding from MacArthur and others established a pool of loan and grant funds administered by LISC and awarded on a competitive basis. Initial grants supported a range of efforts, from small “early action projects” such as community gardens and wall murals, to seed money for ambitious, longer-term efforts on housing, employment, and health care—efforts that will be sustained themselves over time by leveraging other public and private resources.

Click here for the print version of the Quality of Life plans


Each of the lead agencies put together a planning task force of 30 or more local stakeholders who, because of their standing in the community, would be in a position to help develop a Quality of Life plan. The way the work was carried out varied from neighborhood to neighborhood, but in general the process began with a gathering of information and data, including that provided by Camiros, followed by identification of problems and issues, a vision statement, a set of strategies by subject area, and projects and programs designed to achieve the vision in a 5- to 10-year period. It was a huge body of work involving thousands of Chicagoans, from hospital presidents to block club members.  But the plans were completed in time for the May event and the quality of their pages speak for themselves, from the poster-sized pull-out project maps to the detailed work and schedule matrices.


Documenting Change—the Quality of Life Index

The Foundation is providing support for efforts to track the implementation of the Quality of Life plans in each neighborhood. This will be done by identifying and collecting data about interim markers of community change, such as successful completion of projects that are included in the plans. The Foundation is also monitoring trends in each neighborhood to assess the impact of the New Communities Program and related efforts. A grant was given to the Metro Chicago Information Center to analyze data for the past 20 to 30 years; to track the markers of change in the 16 neighborhoods, in other neighborhoods and community areas, and in the city as a whole; and to follow trends in the data in the years ahead. MCIC is tracking a variety of indicators, including income, employment, housing affordability, property values, school test scores, graduation rates, various aspects of health, business starts, public and private investment, and movement in and out of neighborhoods. Analysis of the data will be used to measure progress and impact over time.

MCIC also has assembled a composite measure of the quality of community life called the Community Vitality Index. Comprised of indicators that can be tracked over time that, together, add up to a healthy community, the index includes measures of quality of life, community safety, economic security, and economic development. It allows neighborhoods to be compared with each other and over time.


About LISC—The Local Initiatives Support Corporation

The decision to work with LISC in such an important intermediary role was a significant one.  Since its establishment in 1980, LISC/Chicago has invested nearly $120 million in Chicago’s neighborhoods, leveraging over $2 billion in total private and public investments.  LISC’s leverage ratio is a remarkable 33:1. The dollars are impressive, but so are the results of what that money has produced in Chicago—more than 16,000 units of affordable housing and about 3 million square feet of retail and commercial space.

LISC brings 25 years of experience, its understanding of market forces and conditions, its capacity to identify and develop local assets and opportunities, and its relationships and reputation with city and state agencies to the NCP.  In all, LISC works in 39 Chicago communities and is influential, through its national organization, in community development efforts nationwide.

LISC’s view of community development is reflected in the New Communities Program.  It revolves around safe and secure homes, jobs and job training, access to health care, reliable transportation, and public services such as parks and libraries.  LISC is an advocate for sound community development policy, is directly involved in projects, and is careful to measure the effectiveness of its work so that others can benefit from the lessons learned.


The 16 Communities

The 16 communities involved in the New Communities Program were chosen over the course of a nine-month period after consultation with local leaders, city officials, and consideration of concept papers from potential lead agencies.

The Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods

An important source of data and analysis was the work of the Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods. Jointly funded by the Foundation, the National Institute of Justice, the National Institute of Mental Health, and others, the project was the largest study ever done of the factors that shape the life of a young person growing up in an urban environment. It began in 1990 and was carried out over a ten-year period in Chicago. The data generated in the course of this massive study will be useful in understanding many different urban issues for decades to come.

Click here for a map of the 16 Chicago neighborhoods participating in the New Communities Program


The 16 communities of NCP form a rough crescent of neighborhoods that include clusters such as the city’s mid-south region, and corridors of development cutting across traditional neighborhood boundaries.  Several of them—places like Englewood and North Lawndale—have seen relatively little private redevelopment, while others—such as Logan Square and West Haven—have turned the corner to such an extent that the struggle now is to preserve places where people of low or modest means can afford to live.  In all, the New Communities Program includes about half the low-income neighborhoods in Chicago.

Early Action Projects

Along with planning, there have been early action projects under way in the neighborhoods. A few examples:

  • Development of Haas Park in Logan Square, supported with a $60,000 grant from LISC to help the Trust for Public Lands purchase land to expand the park and a potential $3 million investment by the Chicago Park District to complete the acquisition and build the park
  • Restoration of the Manual Perez Memorial Plaza in the Mexican community of Little Village
  • Opening of a new workforce development center, the North Lawndale Employment Network that specializes in assisting individuals returning from prison
  • Two youth programs, one that trains local youth in bicycle repair and another that involves teens in technology programs
  • Successfully securing a $500,000 grant from the Office of Community Services of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.


If the work goes as planned, the results of investment in the 16 neighborhoods will have spillover effects to adjacent neighborhoods resulting in even more benefits than the Quality of Life plans envision.

Living Cities: The National Community Development Initiative

The Foundation is helping spread word of the New Communities Program through participation in Living Cities: the National Community Development Initiative. Living Cities is a consortium of leading foundations and financial institutions, with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, that supports community development activities in 23 cities and advances public policies designed to help city neighborhoods.

MacArthur’s participation in Living Cities helps attract other information and resources to Chicago. A key program is the Pilot Cities Initiative, designed to help coordinate the efforts of the consortium’s members in four of the 23 cities: Chicago, Baltimore, Minneapolis/St. Paul, and Miami. The MacArthur Foundation is the sponsoring organization in Chicago.


The grant strategy in the Community Change area is expected to lead to improvements in community vitality, crime and safety, employment and income, and public and private investment.  Using its focus on the 16 community areas as an organizing principle, the Foundation is bringing together other elements of its domestic grant and loan activity to reinforce the work under way in the neighborhoods and to help attract the investment of other local and national funders.  The New Communities Program benefits from other MacArthur-funded efforts, including:

  • The national Window of Opportunity initiative, an effort to accelerate preservation of affordable rental housing across the country
  • Chicago’s ambitious plan to transform public housing for which the Foundation has invested more than $24 million
  • Juvenile justice, where Illinois is one of three states in the Foundation’s Models for Change initiative that is designed to help accelerate reform toward model systems
  • Economic development, primarily through program-related investments in organizations that finance housing and commercial development
  • Education reform, nationally and in Chicago.


A Closing Thought

The New Communities Program reflects planning that starts with sound evidence matched to the experience of the people who know best—local residents. Community groups will be more effective if they work together with the private sector and government. The fates of neighborhoods, cities, and larger regions are bound together in an era of global competition. Neighborhood revival requires simultaneous attention to social, physical, and economic issues. Safe streets and parks, excellent schools, affordable housing, good jobs, quality health care—all must happen together. Important work is under way in Chicago’s neighborhoods and we are proud to be involved.