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Accelerating Change and Community Organizing in Chicago

The ICA was not just the center of a global movement but an accelerant of change and community organizing in Chicago from the beginning of the 5th City pilot in 1964. After moving to Uptown in 1972, the community became a test site for maintaining and expanding upon 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 later task forces to develop, while LENS courses and meetings within Ward and Guild systems enabled them to identify their 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 its report.  


The six-year Uptown 5 project (1973 to 1979) was immediately followed by another urban-oriented project called Standing Tall in the 80’s. Between 1979 and 1984, Standing Tall similarly utilized forums to reach each of Chicago’s 77 communities to identify shared issues amongst youth, women, and target-neighborhoods. 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 and community actors in Chicago. Consequently, the ICA managed to reach well over a thousand Chicago residents in those years. Further information on this project may also be found in a separate report. 


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 said needs. 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 a number of issue areas for the city to improve upon, including broadening community involvement, making city services more responsive, and combating negative community images. 


Programmatically, the Institute continued to engage the city’s many communities in an effort to develop local leadership. In the summer of 1989, the ICA visited 70 public schools in Chicago to expand upon its educational service mission and reputation for pedagogy that it had developed since the heydey of the 5th City Project. 


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 could no longer serve as the one-stop center for an international-scale organization. On a side note, the Panchayat itself was called out of being in 1988 two years later. 


The Kemper building — once serving as a global centrum — was gifted to the Chicago-area ICA staff on the condition that they cover $600,000 in accrued global debts. Within four years, the Chicago ICA were able to do so by renting out space to non-profit groups in the area.