Neighborhoods Get Smart about Technology
For the past year, residents of five Chicago neighborhoods – keenly aware of the value of computer technology and access – studied how to bring their communities up to digital speed.
As part of LISC/Chicago’s Smart Communities program, neighborhood representatives in Auburn Gresham, Chicago Lawn, Englewood, Humboldt Park and Pilsen have now developed specific strategies to build awareness of the power of digital technologies; expand digital education for families, individuals and businesses; improve access to technology and the Internet at home and in the community; generate local content and improve access to neighborhood news and resources; and help existing small businesses grow while attracting new businesses to the community.
Their plans, finalized in late 2009 and detailed in a master plan, were unveiled in December at a Chicago
Mayor Daley and FCC Chairman Genachowski (second from right) announce the Smart Communities plans.
Lawn news conference by Mayor Daley and Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski, who endorsed Chicago’s New Communities Program (NCP) platform as a way to bring essential technologies to underserved neighborhoods. NCP is a 10-year effort, funded by the MacArthur Foundation and managed by LISC/Chicago, to revitalize 16 Chicago neighborhoods.
“Creating broadband infrastructure and access to technology in our neighborhoods is just as important to cities in the 21st century as paving streets and building water systems and utility systems were in the 19th and 20th centuries,” Mayor Daley said at the news conference. He stressed that the Smart Communities plan, which is part of the City of Chicago’s Digital Excellence Initiative, is one of the best in the country because it was developed with input from local residents and businesses.
Neighborhood leaders, including Ernie Sanders of Greater Auburn-Gresham Development Corporation, said the Smart Communities planning process grew out of the neighborhoods’ Quality-of-Life plans developed through NCP with the support of LISC/Chicago. Local business owners at the news conference attested to the importance of staying digitally connected.
Julie Welborn, owner of the Perfect Peace Cafe on 79th Street in Auburn Gresham, says free wi-fi is important to her customers.
“Our main means of communication is our website,” said Julie Welborn, co-founder of Perfect Peace Café in Auburn Gresham. Perfect Peace has seen its business grow since it began offering free wireless Internet access to customers.
Each community has created its own projects to address challenges specific to their neighborhoods. For example, Auburn Gresham, Chicago Lawn and Englewood have proposed a “Surfing Seniors” program to bring wi-fi and mobile computer labs to senior housing, and connect seniors with young people who can help them master computers.
In Humboldt Park, organizations want to create a youth social networking site (part of a new community portal) to bridge the cultural divide between young people in East and West Humboldt Park.
And in Pilsen, where Smart Communities representatives have already established a neighborhood portal, plans are to work with Alivio Medical Center to provide greater information on prevention of illnesses that hit the community particularly hard – from diabetes to asthma and high blood pressure.
Daley and Genachowski also announced that Microsoft Corporation has committed an additional $1.03
Ernie Sanders, of the Greater Auburn-Gresham Development Corporation, describes the Smart Communities planning process.
million in software grants to non-profit organizations in the Smart Communities, in addition to the $1.1 million the company has already invested in the program. HP is supporting Smart Communities by working with community-based organizations to place about 40 of its TouchSmart PCs at key locations in the five neighborhoods.
As a result of this private sector support, thousands of unemployed or underemployed residents will be able to use Microsoft software and training programs to learn new technology skills, prepare resumes and write cover letters that will help them find jobs. In addition to providing Internet access, the TouchSmarts will help raise public awareness of other technology resources and human services that are publicly available to residents.
“This is an extraordinary example of public-private partnerships and is in line with what we need to do nationally,” Genachowski said.
The Smart Communities program is supported by the MacArthur Foundation, the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, Microsoft Corporation, HP, and LISC/Chicago.
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