Welcome to the Southwest Organizing Project’s (SWOP) website. We are glad you are here. We hope this website will give the institutions, leaders, and residents of the Southwest Chicago community the opportunity to connect with one another, tell their stories, and build power for change in the community.
Looking Back To Continue To Move Forward
Recently, Senior Organizer David McDowell was asked by LISC Chicago to reflect on the first Quality-of-Life planning process and resulting work. Though the work for that 2005 plan began more than 14 years ago, it has formed much of the basis of SWOP’s work still going on today.
Here are David’s thoughts on the process and results:
To build a new community, we begin with relationships.
In November 2003, 170 community leaders came together at the first meeting of the Chicago Southwest New Communities Quality-of-Life Planning Process, co-led by Greater Southwest Development Corporation and the Southwest Organizing Project (SWOP). These leaders came to talk about the importance of relationships and connectedness on the past, present, and future of the rapidly changing Chicago Lawn community. The Chicago Southwest New Communities Planning Process and the resulting strategies were built around the idea that even a great plan didn’t matter unless the community reinvested in strengthening the relationships between residents and between institutions that would help develop the power and the collective resiliency needed to bring the plan into reality over the upcoming years.
Vision: Because we love Chicago Southwest and want to stay here, we envision a community that in five years will be one of the top 10 most desirable neighborhoods in Cook County. The plan included 8 distinct strategies:
1 Promote stable investment and protect our affordable housing market
2 Establish an active town center by revitalizing the 63rd and Western commercial district
3 Strengthen and sustain leadership and community commitment
4 Create a safe neighborhood by investing in marginalized youth and young adults and building positive resident/police relations.
5 Increase access to comprehensive health care, including preventive, primary and mental health services for residents of all ages regardless of income and immigration status
6 Create better recreational and social opportunities for youth
7 Expand the local employment base, prepare residents for employment, and improve access to jobs
8 Improve local schools and strengthen their role in the community
Did the plan succeed at those goals? What were the biggest wins, whether or not they are directly related to these goals?
- SWOP planned and executed an award winning anti-foreclosure campaign that saved 600 homes and completed the $7 million dollar Phase 1 of the Reclaiming Southwest Chicago Campaign, an award winning housing redevelopment campaign that rehabbed nearly 100 long term vacant units. Phase 2 of Reclaiming began on May 25, 2017 with the launch of a $10 million dollar capital campaign
- SWOP has engaged more than 1000 local resident leaders in formal leadership development classes, many of whom have been involved in significant legislative wins that impact the quality of life for families in SW Chicago including winning the right for undocumented students to access state college as residents, statewide limits on out of-school suspensions as a disciplinary tool and new reporting requirements on its use, statutory limits on high cost predatory home loans, a foreclosure mediation program in Cook County, and laws that make our community safer for immigrants including access to drivers licenses for undocumented immigrants, Chicago’s Welcoming Cities Ordinance and the Illinois Trust Act.
- Our community has moved from having one Federally Qualified Health Center to five, including a new school-based health clinic at Marquette School of Excellence.
- SWOP has created two afterschool programs serving more than 300 students annually and just began a third community school initiative this year.
- SWOP began a Parent Mentor program with 28 parents in 3 neighborhood schools in 2006. Currently SWOP has expanded the program to 130 parents across 15 neighborhood schools and partnered with Logan Square Neighborhood Association to win $1.5M in annual state funding to expand the program to engaging more than 600 parents in 13 community organizations working in 70 schools across Illinois.
How did Quality-of-Life Planning help make these things happen?
- Our quality of life planning process was focused on building relationships between residents and between community institutions while thinking together about what our community needed to succeed. These relationships set the stage for much of the work that took place in the following decade. SWOP’s connection with LISC and the other 14 communities involved in simultaneous planning widened our connections across the city with actors that we might not otherwise engage with.
- LISC’s position as an intermediary and its deep knowledge of local neighborhood capacity and direction along with its national reach facilitated new relationships with funders, launching efforts like the Elev8 school initiative and the Smart Communities Digital planning which expanded the capacities of our community and helped build new public/private collaborations to further our planning strategies
- The decade long focus on planning and implementing helped expand our communities’ capacity to respond to unexpected challenges like the 2008 financial crisis and ensuing foreclosure crisis.
What unanticipated challenges did you face, and how did the QLP process influence your response?
The two biggest challenges during the life of the 2005 QLP process were the 2008 national financial crisis and its impact on homeownership, employment and businesses, and on the stability of key community stakeholder institutions like our schools and churches; and the ongoing State of Illinois Budget crisis which put enormous pressure on much-needed human service providers and schools in our community. The planning process allowed SWOP to take its relational organizing model and merge it with a broad cross-community planning model. The relationships built during the original planning and the subsequent Elev8 and Smart Communities planning processes helped our community develop the capacity to better respond to unforeseen events like those.
For more information, please contact David at email@example.com.
 From the original plan.
Want to read more stories about SWOP’s work? They are all here.