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Forging partnerships with clear objectives is Chicago’s superpower

Photo credit: Bloomberg

The following commentary was authored by MPC President & CEO Darlene Hightower and appeared on February 26, 2024 in Crain’s Chicago Business.


Crime rates, a persistent racial wealth gap and an affordable housing crisis plague our city. But Chicago is more than data points and negative headlines. We are the city that works. Our superpower is leveraging cross-sector collaborations to solve big problems and build a stronger, more inclusive city and region.

For 90 years, the Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) has worked alongside businesses, universities, government, and other nonprofits as a convener and catalyst for change. MPC launched a groundbreaking initiative in 2017, The Cost of Segregation, showing that the Chicago region loses $4.4 billion in additional income each year and has a 30% higher homicide rate because of segregation. The findings brought together diverse communities and sectors to develop solutions to these entrenched problems.

Similarly, We Rise Together was formed in response to concerns about economic recovery in Black and Latinx communities after the pandemic. This initiative connects philanthropic, business, community, nonprofit, and local government leaders to drive neighborhood investment, strengthen businesses and increase access to jobs. The work is done through grantmaking, promoting inclusive business practices in hiring and addressing public policy barriers to services and benefits.

Since its launch in 2021, We Rise Together has invested $30 million in 35 development projects on the South and West sides of the city, provided flexible funding to close the capital gap for Black and Latinx business owners, and worked to ease red tape in government processes for development and services.

During the pandemic, we learned that transit agencies in northeastern Illinois were heading toward a fiscal cliff, with an expected budget shortfall of $730 million in 2026. Civic, government, community and business leaders drafted the Plan of Action for Regional Transit (PART), which includes a bold vision to ensure the financial viability of the transit system.

Submitted to Gov. J.B. Pritzker and the General Assembly in December 2023, PART recommends strengthening how we fund public transit; improving the rider experience; streamlining governance of the Chicago Transit Authority, Metra and Pace; and focusing on equitable development near transit to address socioeconomic gaps in communities. It is now up to state lawmakers to act on these recommendations.

Crime rates jumped 16% last year and are up 55% since 2019. In response, the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago formed the Public Safety Task Force, bringing together business leaders, community-based organizations and philanthropic partners to make Chicago the safest big city in America. The committee set five-year goals to achieve this bold vision through hiring, scaling existing community violence intervention programs, and providing organizational support to the Chicago Police Department and community-based organizations. One key goal is to reduce shootings and homicides by 50% in five years and 75% in a decade. To date, the Civic Committee has raised $66 million to combat crime in Chicago.

Decades-long problems cannot be fixed overnight by a single organization, leader or agency. Partnerships with purpose and clear objectives are key to creating a safe and prosperous region. Collaboration will strengthen our region so that everyone has an opportunity to thrive.

Darlene Hightower is president and CEO of the Metropolitan Planning Council.