Disrupting a City’s Legacy of Segregation

“To truly disrupt #Chicago’s legacy of segregation, we need to focus on the racism + inequity that fueled and continues to fuel it”: @HeleneGayle on #OurEquitableFuture, a new roadmap to equity from @MetroPlanners Tweet This

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Since joining the Trust last fall, I’ve had the opportunity to get to know my new home a little better, visiting neighborhoods throughout the region. Chicago is truly a welcoming city! Boasting a rich history, thriving economy, diverse and cultural scene, restaurants, architecture and more—there is a lot to take in and appreciate.

However, throughout my travels across the region, I’ve also become keenly aware of the deep inequities that exist here. Black and Latinx neighborhoods are clearly impacted from decades of disinvestment and lack of connection to the economic prosperity experienced in many parts of Chicago. Residents of these communities can see, but have not experienced, the benefits of the economic development that has led to Chicago’s status as a world-class city. I’ve seen in many of these neighborhoods, people doing great work to try and create positive change in their home, on their block, in their community—but all too often, these efforts are happening in a silo and not being done at a scale to bring about sustained change. Systems, procedures and even laws that have been in place for far too long are working against these communities and are an obstacle to systemic change.

As a region, we will not continue to move forward unless people have equitable opportunities to realize their goals and plans in a way that supports a vibrant Chicago region.

This week, the Metropolitan Planning Council released Our Equitable Future: A Roadmap for the Chicago Region, identifying more than two dozen policies and interventions that can serve as a guide to help Chicago become a more equitable region.

These include, but are not limited to: adoption of a racial equity framework, adopting an earned income tax credit, activities aimed at breaking the link between people earning lower incomes and incarceration, as well as a number of recommendations that deal with affordable housing decisions and subsidies. A follow-up to MPC’s 2017 Cost of Segregation report, these recommendations will be implemented over the next two years with a goal of disrupting metropolitan Chicago’s legacy of segregation.

Philanthropy needs to play a major role here in securing the deep and long-term commitments that are critical to addressing racism and segregation in a significant and sustainable way.

This goes beyond the patterns of where people live—to truly disrupt Chicago’s legacy of segregation, we need to focus on the racism and inequity that fueled and continues to fuel it. There are both economic and moral imperatives to this work, and philanthropy needs to play a major role here in securing the deep and long-term commitments that are critical to addressing racism and segregation in a significant and sustainable way. As community leaders, funders and policy-makers come together to determine solutions, we must consistently use equity as a key measure for decision-making and encourage solutions that create local ownership through collective action.

The Trust has seen positive outcomes when using equity as a lens on a smaller scale through our work with Elevated Chicago—an initiative that views transit hubs as optimal locations where arts and culture, urban design, social programming and development can converge in order to address the region’s deeply rooted racial disparities, with a focus on public health and climate resiliency outcomes. By bringing diverse perspectives to the table as equal partners, Elevated Chicago has helped to advance local community-owned development projects more quickly, help attract new resources for local partners, and promote the voices and stories of community-driven solutions and approaches.

Aerial view of a Chicago neighborhood, showing blocks of single-family homes and two-flats


We’ve also invested in Jobs to Move America—a national coalition that relies on collaboration to create a bigger impact. Their coalition unites more than 50 community, faith, labor and civil rights organizations to maximize the value of U.S. tax dollars spent on public infrastructure. As the result of more than three years of negotiations, policy and organizing work, a unique partnership between JMA, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, World Business Chicago, Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle, the Chicago Federation of Labor and the Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership led to adoption of the most comprehensive transportation manufacturing procurement policy in the nation; a new factory on the City’s south side; the creation of hundreds of local construction, manufacturing and support jobs; as well as a Community Benefits Agreement that will ensure job access for historically underrepresented workers from the communities surrounding the factory.

These are just two of many examples that demonstrate how approaching this challenge through collaboration and an equitable lens can help communities begin to create and sustain change over a long period of time.

The Chicago Community Trust will continue to partner with MPC and other stakeholders on initiatives to combat the structures and systems that perpetuate segregation and racism across the city.


To learn more about these efforts and how to support this work, please contact Joanna Trotter, the Trust’s senior program officer for economic and community development.