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Accelerating Change and Community Organizing in Chicago

The ICA began is community development in the 5th City pilot in East Garfield Park in 1964. After moving to Uptown in 1972, the Uptown community became a test site for expanding the organizational and community methods practiced in 5th City: a project titled the Uptown 5. Problem Solving Units (PSUs) were implemented to help residents identify problems and solutions for task forces to develop, while LENS courses and meetings within Wardsand Guilds enabled identifying immediate and long-term political, economic, and cultural objectives. Community Youth Forums and Global Women’s Forums likewise helped these constituencies identify shared grievances and propose plans of redress. Additional information on the Uptown 5 can be found in this 1973-1979 report.  


The Uptown 5 project was immediately followed by a city-wide project called “Standing Tall in the 80’s”. Between 1979 and 1984, Kitty Cole and Georgianna McBurney offered community, women, youth and business forums to each of Chicago’s 77 communities. Auburn-Gresham, Uptown, and Humboldt Park were targeted as “beacon light neighborhoods” whose lines of division and issues surrounding race, income, and community identity were seen as crucial to unlocking the potential of community actors in Chicago. Consequently, the ICA managed to reach well over a thousand Chicago residents in those five years. 


The 1980s also witnessed collaborative efforts with the city of Chicago regarding the development and trajectory of its communities. In June 1986, the ICA issued a report to the City’s Department of Economic Development assessing the needs of local residents and recommending strategies for fulfilling them. From 1984-86 the ICA conducted strategic planning events with 46 economic development organizations – including local chambers of commerce, business associations, and training organizations, collecting over 2,000 pieces of “brainstorm data.” Based on this data, the ICA recommended issue areas for the city to improve upon, including broadening community involvement, making city services more responsive, and combating negative community images. 


At the same time, however, the Institute, as an international organization, radically changed its approach and concentration. At a meeting in Bilbao, Spain in the summer of 1986, representatives voted to phase out the “last vestiges” of the centrum system in an effort to decentralize the Institute and its efforts. Three “break-through teams” were established to help guide global efforts in research, international development, and long-term investments, respectively, as the Institute transitioned away from utilizing cities like Chicago as “primary units” of activity, as they had done in the past. In addition, the Panchayat, an experiment in global polity, was relocated from its Chicago base to Hong Kong, driving home the idea that the Windy City would no longer serve as the one-stop center for its international service. The Chicago area was gifted the eight-story facility that had served its global work on the condition that they cover $600,000 in accrued global debts. By 1992 Chicago ICA staff were able to do so by renting out space to non-profit groups in the area.


Programmatically, the Institute continued to engage many Chicago communities in an effort to develop local leadership. Between 1990 and 1995 the ICA had expanded on its education service mission by facilitating school planning and staff development in 70 Chicago public schools.