June 11, 2019

Advancing Racial Equity from All Angles in Chicago

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By: Vrunda Vaghela​​​ and Devin Culbertson

In the weeks before Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot took office, Elevated Chicago – a partnership of organizations committed to transforming transit in the city – seized the opportunity to center racial equity and equitable transit-oriented development (eTOD) in the new administration's priorities. Roberto Requejo, program director for Elevated Chicago, co-chaired the Transportation and Infrastructure Transition Committee, Juan Carlos Linares of LUCHA co-chaired the Housing committee, and numerous Elevated Chicago members—including Enterprise's Andy Geer, vice president and Chicago Market Leader – were active participants in the 10 Transition Committees. 

Elevated Chicago used the Lightfoot transition, which had identified diversity, equity and inclusion as core values, to encourage other committees (such as Environment, Neighborhood Development, and Good Governance) to view eTOD as a shared priority. Elevated Chicago also encouraged other committees to prioritize racial equity in all city practices. For instance, Enterprise's Transition Memo recommended that the city use a racial equity tool to guide the improvement and expansion of key existing housing policies and plans.

When the memos from over 300 transition committee members were blended into a single briefing document for Mayor Lightfoot, eTOD was highlighted both as a transportation priority and as a cross-cutting initiative. Many of Enterprise's housing recommendations were also highlighted in the final briefing document and racial equity impact assessments were identified as a cross-cutting initiative.  

Elevated Chicago's strength comes from its balanced approach to systems change, which supports both policy-making in government and organizing in neighborhoods. During the six or so weeks of the transition process, Logan Square Neighborhood Association (an Elevated Chicago member) was working to lift hundreds of voices to support rezoning for an affordable TOD located at the Logan Square station, and garner the signatures of 100 organizations in a letter to the Alderman in support of the rezone. The development will be Chicago's first 100% affordable eTOD for families. 

In just two short years working together as part of the Strong, Prosperous and Resilient Communities Challenge (SPARCC) initiative, Elevated Chicago's willingness to advocate for their shared values and the desires of the communities that they represent has earned them respect and recognition in communities, in the board room and now in City Hall. Enterprise is proud to be a part of this impactful work as both a local Elevated Chicago steering committee member and national partner through SPARCC.​

​Vrunda Vaghela is a director of National Initiatives and serves as a managing director for SPARCC.​​ Devin Culbertson​ is a senior program director in National Initiatives.