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Metropolitan Planning Council leader Darlene Hightower to step down

The following article was written by Emmanuel Camarillo and appeared on February 15, 2024 in Chicago Sun-Times.

After two years, Darlene Hightower is stepping down as president and chief executive of the Metropolitan Planning Council, a nonprofit that advises communities about equitable growth.

Hightower will leave her position March 29 “to pursue other professional opportunities,” Paul Carlisle, chair of the council’s board of governors, said in a message Thursday to subscribers of the group’s newsletter.

“It has been an amazing two-plus years at the organization and I’m proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish,” Hightower said in a statement. “We completed a successful strategic planning process that helped refocus MPC’s priorities while keeping us on a sound financial footing.”

Hightower became the first Black person to lead the council — which dates from 1934 — when she stepped into the role in January 2022.

“Darlene has been instrumental in leading MPC through a successful strategic planning process, refocusing our priorities, and ensuring our organization’s financial stability,” Carlisle said in his message. “We are grateful for her impactful leadership during her two-plus years with us.”

Hightower, an attorney, is a Bradley University graduate who earned her law degree at Georgetown University. Before joining the council, Hightower was vice president of community health equity at Rush University Medical Center.

While at Rush, Hightower was involved in social justice initiatives and helped organize West Side United, a coalition that promotes health and economic growth.

Hightower also formerly led Public Allies, a nonprofit leadership development organization. She has been an administrative law judge for the Chicago Department of Human Relations.

Carlisle said the council’s board search committee is actively seeking both an interim and a long-term replacement for Hightower.

The organization has focused on issues such as affordable housing and modernizing zoning rules. It has advocated for regional cooperation to address problems that arise from development or the lack of it.

In 2017, the council produced a Cost of Segregation study that quantified how racial injustice has led to lost lives and slower economic growth in the region.

More recently, the organization was part of Mayor Brandon Johnson’s transition team and worked with the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning on its Plan of Action for Regional Transit.

The report outlines a set of policy recommendations to address Chicago-area public transit’s looming fiscal cliff when federal COVID-19 dollars run out. It was sent to state lawmakers in December.

“At our core, we continue to urge those in the public and private sectors to work toward a more equitable, sustainable, and prosperous region for all,” Hightower said.