Monday, January 26, 2015

Stop the presses! I gotta mourn the REAL Ernie Banks!

Ernie Banks was a spectacular ballplayer and special guy.  But, Ernie, with all respect, I'm getting the idea from media response your passing, and the recent passing of Mayor Byrne as well, that Chicago is living in the past. Makes me wonder: have Chicagoans (and/or its media) simply given up on the city's future? Instead of informing, inspiring and mobilizing Chicagoans to solve critical problems like youth violence, media spend so much time these days celebrating fallen heroes and merely mourning murder after murder of innocent teen victims like Hadiya Pendleton . . .

Anyway, so does it feel high up there in firmament of the media-driven Star System that gives Chicagoans such an imperfect idea of how people actually think about the issues of the day? It listens only to you stars, seldom to the people. And it remembers you only in certain idealized, superficial ways. In your case, you were always smiling, always full of love, always boosting baseball, the Cubs and Chicago. That was you! Of course it was a role you played, and played to perfection, no doubt enjoying it most of the time. But Ernie: did you want to be remembered only for this role?

Your own words, below, reveal the man behind the role, a black athlete deeply concerned with the issues of the day. But before hearing them, let's pay homage to your deification in Chicago's daily newspapers. In the Tribune in began on Saturday:

And in  the Saturday Sun-Times:

Then I saw the Sun-Times front page for Sunday:

The Sunday Tribune did likewise. But its front page was missing from Newseum site. So here's the front page of the Sports section:

Get the idea? Seen enough? Was this the REAL you? I'm sparing you soupy clips of reverential talking heads on TV news and talk radio shows. It was all the same thing, over and over again.

Isn't all this hoopla overdoing it just a bit? Makes me wonder: are Chicagoans living in the past - or is it just Chicago's media? At the poll at the toolbar on the right, you (and others) can vote your opinions.

And now, for anyone who wants to see and hear the REAL Ernie Banks, here are two clips from a terrific 2004 interview. You are looking fine and sharp as a tack at the ripe old age 73. These clips? We certainly aren't seeing them anywhere in Chicago's media today.

In the first clip you talk admiringly about what you yourself did not do: about how Jackie Robinson and Curt Flood stood up and made a difference and fought and paid the price - Flood especially for challenging baseball's reserve clause - for what all of you knew was right and just. You also discuss the cautious "Listen and Learn" image that you picked up from Robinson, an image that white Chicago chose to interpret as your joyful affirmation of a status quo about which you actually had severe misgivings.   

In this second clip you bring us up to date about alarming changes in American culture that have resulted in fewer blacks in baseball and given us gangs and drugs: what today we call "youth violence".

Your thoughts in these and other great Visionary Project clips of Ernie Banks on YouTube make me think that in addition to the media-driven Star System that pretty much calls the shots in Chicago you would have liked to see a future-oriented, media-driven People System committed to informing, inspiring and mobilizing young people and adults in Chicago to address and resolve gigantic, systemic problems like youth violence.

"Let's Play 2!"  

R.I.P. the REAL Ernie Banks

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Top Ten Reasons why Chicago needs a Comprehensive Chicago Directory of Youth Violence Resources - Part I

Printable version (1800 words)

Here's a question that will either put you to sleep or strike you as a crucial first step in Chicago's long-term goal of making itself a safe city for all Chicagoans, not just some. The idea would be to make Chicago the safest big city in America (as any Chicago mayor would be proud to call it) not just in terms of low crime rates but in terms of low levels of youth violence of all kinds.

The question: In Chicago how great is the need for a searchable, accessible, comprehensive and current directory of resources that all Chicagoans, young and old, can use to reduce violence in their families, neighborhoods citywide and even region-wide? This would be a multimedia, multi-device, neighborhood specific list of resources made specific to all 77 Chicago neighborhoods. It would be made available in versions designed for five audiences:
  1. Young people
  2. Adults: parents, teachers, community leaders 
  3. Donors (foundations, individuals, businesses) and Advertisers (businesses)
  4. Chicago's media
  5. City Hall and other policy makers at local, state, national levels.

This directory would gather, publicize and constantly update all resources and kinds of resources - educational, public and mental health, criminal justice, jobs and careers, recreational, cultural, spiritual - relating to the reduction of youth violence in Chicago.

Most everyone who's working to reduce youth violence in Chicago tells me the need for such a directory is urgent. Why? I see all kinds of reasons, all of them, when you think of it, stemming from the information bottleneck that denies every Chicagoan including policy makers full awareness of existing youth violence resources! (BTW, the term information bottleneck came from a smart young man - I  never got his name - who spoke at the June 25 meeting of the Parents' Political University in Austin.)

I've been thinking about this topic recently and came up with a Letterman-style Top Ten list of reasons for it:

Very funny Dave,  but what matters in Chicago is children and kids' lives, not dogs and pet peeves.

So here goes: Chicagoland needs a comprehensive directory of youth violence resources so it can

10. Begin to do what the Bears, Bulls, Cub, Sox and Blackhawks already do in spades for the entire Chicagoland region: unify city and suburban residents alike. A comprehensive youth violence directory of city/surburban resources will be a crucial first step in the ongoing process of empowering all Chicagoans to be as committed to their city and region's future as they are to the futures of their pro sports teams. 
Note. This directory would not only list suburban as well as city resources but also list resources for all kinds of youth violence: bullying, sexual, self-harm, and domestic. All of these in addition to the gun/gang/drug kinds of violence that are usually associated with the city. (And don't forget that the suburbs now have 15,000 gang members, as compared to the city's 100,000 or more, according to Chicago Crime Council's 2012 Gang Book.) 

Note 1. Drug use in the suburbs is about the same as in the city, as the authoritative Illinois Youth Survey confirms. For many years, the Survey has found that past 30-day use of marijuana, for instance, has been almost 30% for city and suburban high school seniors alike (though the 2014 findings for the city appear to show a higher rate in the city.

Over the years there's been some (but not enough) good reporting on the link between city/suburban drug use and drug distribution:
Here (Chicago Tribune, Jean Latz Griffin, 1986, terrific article)
Here (Chicago Tribune, Robert McCoppin, 2009
Here (WBEZ radio, Chip Mitchell, heckuva story from Mexico in 2013)
Here (Huffington Post, with links to Mike Dumpke's WBEZ/Chicago Reader series about West Side heroin dealing as a business proposition, 2014)
Here (Chicago Tribune, 2014)
Note 2. About the suburbs: I've lived in suburban Glenview for the past 16 years. My experience of suburban public schools - including several top-ranked Illinois high school schools, at one of which my son is now a junior - has been that up 30% of students at these schools suffer from forms of violence for which students see drug abuse, initially at least, as a way to reduce pain or simply to get to sleep. And because media pay almost zero attention to these kinds of youth violence, there are almost no community-wide efforts to address them.
9.  Give all Chicagoans, city and suburban, some hard evidence that Chicago is at long last  beginning to address all forms of its systemic youth violence problem systemically,

8.  Give researchers in area universities data for use in developing city and region wide strategies for addressing youth violence. For instance, for determining which city neighborhoods are underserved or overserved with youth violence resources.

7.  Give Chicago's elementary and secondary schools neighborhood-specific resources that teachers and staff can use in two ways: to help individual students and to give entire student bodies a sense of belonging to their local communities,

6.  Generate volunteers for the mostly non-profit organizations that provide these resources: volunteer tutors and mentors, for instance, for the approximately 200,000 CPS students who currently need them,

5.  Connect existing violence reduction groups with each other so they can interact more efficiently and cooperatively with each other, including creating collaborations to raise funds or to improve program outcomes.

4.  Give Chicago's media reliable, detailed information for their use in supplementing their existing Crime Story coverage of youth violence with Full Story (use this link, not the screenshot below) coverage that empowers Chicagoans to be problem solvers as opposed to mourners or victims of youth violence,

How Chicago's public information system - its media - can give Chicagoans the tools they need to reduce youth violence in their neighborhoods.
3.  Give prospective funders - foundations, business groups and private donors - comprehensive information about existing violence reduction resources. The need here is to remedy the drastic shortage of funds that currently hampers the efforts of all but a very few existing violence reduction groups.

2. Inform government leaders at city, state, and national levels whose often astonishing ignorance of existing resources, including the absence of resources in the neighborhoods that need them most, prevents government at all levels from addressing youth violence effectively,

1. Remedy the information bottleneck that denies Chicagoans living in the city's roughest neighborhoods access to existing violence reduction resources already available to them in their neighborhoods. The tragedy here is of lives lost because Chicagoans did not know about resources that could have saved lives: likely hundreds or thousands of lives had all Chicagoans had access to a reliable and comprehensive directory of these resources five or ten years go.
OK, so why hasn't Chicago had a directory like this for decades? Good question for our Aldermen and State Representatives and Senators. And our Congressmen and Senators in Washington. And for City Hall and citywide organizations like Chicago Community Trust and United Way. Better question: what will it take for Chicago to get one?

Two people I know - Becky Levin of Strengthening Chicago's Youth (SCY) and Dan Bassill of the Tutor/Mentor Institute - have worked hard to create a directory like this. Their answer? You guessed it. It's money. But to my knowledge, no one has ever attempted even an informal cost estimate for directory like this, let alone advanced strategies for underwriting the costs of creating one, keeping it current, and disseminating it to all Chicagoans.

So Part II of this post will do three things. It will
  • Give a rough estimate of the three costs of creating, disseminating and maintaining such a directory. By "rough" I mean really rough: to the nearest million or even five million. After decades of failed, piecemeal efforts to empower Chicagoans to reduce youth violence and save lives citywide, I expect that this directory, with its life-saving, city-unifying capabilities, would easily be worth $20 million. But I bet costs would a fraction of that amount.
    • If this estimate sounds off the wall, bear in mind the $51 million cost of the Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods (PHDCN), a magnificent and epic survey of Chicago neighborhoods conducted between 1995 and 2005 that was underwritten by the MacArthur Foundation and the U.S. Department of Justice. 
    • The tragedy of PHDCN and its splendid finding of the value of neighborhood collective efficacy is that, upon completion, nothing ever came of it. Nothing! 
    • As PHDCN's Lead Investigator, Felton Earls, said (discretely) at a 2013 Harvard Club of Chicago presentation, Chicago simply dropped the ball on PHDCN after its completion. $51 million down the drain, so far as Chicago was concerned. Undaunted, Earls went to successfully implement collective efficacy in Tanzania and Costa Rica, focusing on children as change agents.
  • Part II will also throw out some ideas as to how a Citywide directory might be funded. These will focus on:
    • A multisource or "rainbow" spectrum of funders based on mutually beneficial partnerships created among existing violence reduction groups, funders, City Hall, Chicago's media, major and local advertisers and the people of Chicago, including Chicago's young people.

    • A third convenor/aggregator group is the Tutor/Mentor Institute. T/MI convenes existing organizations at its bi-annual Tutor/Mentor conferences (next one: May 8, 2015) and aggregates scores of organizations. Director Dan Bassill is a systems thinker whose blogs and websites will give you free and full access to hundreds of his hyperlinked maps. This one, below, instantly links you to some thirty local groups. And it's current to January 15, 2015. (To access an organization's website on it, just click on the little gray box, then click the link that shows up)

Saturday, January 10, 2015

How I CAN'T BREATHE Can Become I CAN BREATHE in Chicago (and elsewhere)

Printable version of this 2500 word post.

Derrick Rose started it all with a tee shirt worn without comment on December 6 during warm ups before a Bulls game with Golden State. Beautiful gesture. Reminded me of Muhammad Ali refusing draft induction with the words "I ain't got nothing against the Viet Cong".

Soon Sun-Times columnist Neil Steinberg would set Rose's silent protest in the tradition of athletes like Ali who spoke out on racial issues when no one expected them to.

Soon other superstar athletes were following Rose's lead. Why? Because most had grown up on rough neighborhoods. They knew all to well how police treat people there.

If you haven't seen it, here's the disturbing "I can't breathe" video that culminates with Staten Island/New York resident Eric Garner repeatedly saying "I can't breathe" to the police officers who held him on the ground and in a choke hold. Garner died. The video, below, begins with a lengthy standoff argument:

And leads to this still shot:

Hard to watch. Derrick Rose surely had it in mind when he wore the tee shirt that echoes Garner's last words. 

But guess what: Rose's protest hit Chicago like a summer squall: riveting for a few minutes, then forgotten as it blows over. So chalk up yet another lost opportunity for the city to improve police/community relations and reduce youth violence. Opportunities like those that followed the murders of Chicago innocents Hadiya Pendleton, Dantrell Davis, and, most recently, Demario Bailey. 

Youth violence and police violence? They're two sides of the same coin. Where you see one,  you see the other.

Question: will the time ever come when Chicago publicly and definitively commits itself to reducing the police and youth violence that for decades has plagued its poorer, nonwhite neighborhoods?

A few weeks after the Eric Garner incident, all hope for productive public discussion of police/community relations in Chicago (and elsewhere) was dashed, for the time being at least, when media were flooded images of New York's finest turning their backs on Mayor Bill de Blasio. The mayor's comment that "centuries of racism" fueled the Garner incident had outraged them.

All this left Chicago frozen like a deer in headlights, awaiting the next Eric Garner, Michael Brown or Hadiya Pendleton incident. Amazingly, the January 11 episode of The Good Wife, taped before the Michael Brown incident in Ferguson, Missouri, prophetically affirmed (more on this below).

It's time for new ideas and new solutions. Specifically, it's time for new uses of media aimed at de-polarizing and unifying citizens (including police) instead of polarizing them as media have done for decades.

A couple weeks ago the ever-observant Dan Bassill of the Tutor/Mentor Connection sent me a link to his comments an interesting opinion piece about youth violence in Chicago. They are well worth reading. Here, however, I want to give my own thoughts on this piece.

The piece is "The lies about murder in Chicago" by Dan Proft, a political commentator, Republican candidate for governor of Illinois in the 2010 election and, until recently, a talk-show co-host on WLS-AM.

The above "fixed, not broken" message carries through in Proft's Chicago Tribune piece. His solution?

"Stop the lying," Proft says. "The politicians lie to us. We lie to each other. We lie to ourselves."  

Hate to say so, but these thoughts pretty much sum up my own experience of Chicago's efforts to address youth violence since I moved to the city 30 years ago. We've fooled ourselves into thinking of soluble problems as insoluble ones.

Proft doesn't hold back. "In short, Chicago's civic institutions are structural failures. City government has failed. The police department has failed. Nearly everything we have tried has failed."

It would be interesting to see their opinions measured in a citywide poll on these questions.

But what does Proft say needs to be done? "We need to contemplate and debate deep, transformative, difficult change", he says. Makes sense to me.

But where to start? Proft insists that he doesn't "pretend to possess the secret knowledge as to how to stop the slayings on our streets". A curious phrase, this "secret knowledge". It implies something hidden from public view.

I will reach to Dan Proft. I want ask him if he thinks the arena that holds his secret knowledge is in fact hidden in plain view for all Chicagoans to see: it's Chicago's media. To my mind, Proft himself confirms this fact with his insightful satire of the hollow rituals for media that invariably constitute Chicago's response to the murder of an innocent child:

Proft sees Chicago's media, and in particular the  24 hour news cycle of news media, as the stage for tediously repetitious performances that serve only to express and confirm the city's utter helplessness to deal effectively with youth violence.

But Proft fails to take this invaluable insight to its logical conclusion: namely, that Chicago's news media are themselves part of the problem. After all, their constant ritualistic depictions of this helplessness are instrumental in demoralizing the public and creating the state of civic apathy that holds Chicago in its grip today. When Proft he concludes his satire by asserting that "Everyone moves on", "everyone" necessarily includes Chicago's news media.

There, I submit, you have the secret knowledge of which Dan Proft speaks. It's a knowledge of which, paradoxically, he seems to be imperfectly aware. As a former radio talk show host, he's a member of the media. Chicago's news media, I've long felt, are able to hold up mirrors to just about everyone but themselves.

So let's hold a mirror up to news media with a view to seeing how they can put their resources to constructive use. To this end, Chicago, including its media professionals, need only to acknowledge media's extraordinary power to shape public opinion and behavior for good or ill. Then they will be in a position to use some their communications tools accordingly.

It's as simple as that. And I've often said, media can profit handsomely from constructive uses of their resources. But then things get tricky. Why? Because media's attention span - the 24-hour news cycle, described at Wikipedia that meets audience demand and delivers audiences (consumers) to advertisers - is so short. EXTREMELY short!

The 24-news cycle, marketers, advertisers and media professionals alike tell us, is driven by incessant public demand for latest developments, by an insatiable appetite for constant newness.

In this context, Derrick Rose's startling "I can't breathe" moment riveted the attention of Chicagoans for several days. It was truly new and completely unexpected! So also was the spontaneous support of other big-time athletes who wore the same tee short in support of Rose.

But what happened next? "I can't breathe" soon faded from the evening news and from public view. Why? Because it was followed by no subsequent newsworthy developments. And, to borrow Proft's image, because Jay Cutler was benched.

So let's ask ourselves: what would a sequence of newsworthy developments following Derrick Rose's "I can't breathe" gesture look like?

Well, here's one. Get ready, it's a bit of a newsflash. CPD Superintendent Garry McCarthy could tell all Chicagoans what he's repeatedly told West Side residents since 2009: namely that African-Americans have reason not to trust their police. (McCarthy said this, by the way, in at least one press that was covered by major news media.)

Next, Mayor Emanuel and Superintendent McCarthy could jointly commit to developing programs committed to reducing inflammatory language and conduct of both police and citizens in every one of Chicago's high-crime neighborhoods.

Not just some. In every high-crime neighborhood. Chicago needs a citywide project, not yet another pilot project.

The YMCA's "Bridging the Divide" program is currently working to improve youth/police relations in high crime neighborhoods. But it's not a citywide. And - surprise, surprise - it's not getting attention in Chicago's mainstream media.

So what to do? Well, once a city leaders (including police) and media have mapped out an effective citywide program, Derrick Rose and other Chicago Bulls (if they wished) could wear I Can Breathe tee shirts during warm ups for Bulls games.

How beautiful would that be? NBA teams in other cities would likely follow suit. Good things resulting from I Can Breathe in Chicago could begin to happen nationwide. 

But all this would be just a beginning. We must keep good things happening. To this end, a coordinated, citizen-participatory sequence of newsworthy activities occurring on the street and in the media would have to be in place.

One useful media activity would be for news media to give all Chicagoans what they presently lack: access to resources in their neighborhoods that they can use to prevent and reduce youth violence. One promising technique for disseminating these resources has been set forth in this Full Story proposal that Chicago Civic Media is now advancing to several groups in Chicago:

Another would be the routine airing on the TV evening news of dynamic video footage telling the ongoing story of young people and police striving and struggling to improve communication. Striving and struggling, in other words, to help each other, and their communities, to breathe.

To get through to the African American teenagers who are coming of age Chicago's violent neighborhoods, audio footage of these efforts could be broadcast on hip hop radio stations like WGCI-FM 107.5 and WPWX 92.3 FM.

These first steps would do something, but not nearly enough, to rouse Chicago from its 50 year nightmare of youth violence. Much more would need to be done in order to inspire and mobilize Chicagoans - including Chicago's finest - to step up and take responsibility for improving police/community relations and reducing youth violence.

For help all this to happen, a network TV series - a reality TV series, I'm thinking - could tell the ongoing story of the successes and failures of Chicago's ongoing I Can Breathe efforts.

Sound unrealistic? Bear in mind that two successful mainstream TV dramas have already dramatized the story of youth violence in Chicago. The first aired last January:

It was the eight-segment Chicagoland series, produced by CNN in part as a response to "vagaries of the news cycle", as the Hollywood Reporter said in its review of the series. As the above image suggests, it struck many in Chicago as propaganda for Mayor Emanuel.

The second program is The Good Wife. Now in its sixth season, it airs Sunday evenings at 9:00pm on CBS. The January 11 episode entitled "The Debate" is a must-see from the standpoint of its depiction of the breakdown of police/community relations. It tells a story in which Chicago is torn by citywide protests that unmistakably echo those of Ferguson, Missouri.

This episode opens with a jumbled, cell-phone video of a fatal incident of possible police brutality over which is layered the following astonishing statement:

This statement gives this entire episode a quality that is nothing short of prophetic. After the video comes a TV news anchor's account of the incident as seen on someone's laptop computer:

These two media accounts of a Michal Brown-type incident - a cell phone video of it and a media newscast account of it - are the first of several media accounts of this episode and its aftermath that, among other drivers, drive the complex narrative of this episode. It's well worth watching.

I think of Chicagoland and The Good Wife as strong precedents for future network TV programming that will take Chicago to the next level in its quest to solve youth violence and improve broken police/community relations. The next level? The possibilities are limitless. But consider the following. Careful, it will surprise you.

Consider a Chicago-based I Can Breathe Reality TV series. Think of a reality-based and reality-driven documentary television that is committed to a truthful reporting and telling of the ongoing story of Chicago's efforts to do what no other American city has ever dared to do: use its media - the city's public communications system - for the constructive purpose of defining and solving, with full citizen input, a problem that threatens the city's and region's future.

This ongoing documentary could air weekly over a full 15 or 20 episode season, just like American Idol. Better yet, it might air year-round, with weekly, bi-weekly or monthly episodes. Occasional televised Chicago Town Hall meetings could commit Chicago to placing on the public record the success or failure of the city's collective I Can Breathe efforts.

Would this programming catch on with Chicagoans? Would they watch it? Ask yourself: what could  possibly be more powerfully dramatic to Chicagoans and their city's future than the life and death issues of youth violence and the underlying issues of gangs, guns and drugs.

The story of these issues would furthermore of necessity be grounded in history: in that of the growth of drug-dealing gangs in Chicago since the 1960's and in that of the successes and failures of the so-called War on Drugs.

To get through to Chicagoans and to dispel the polarities that set us against each other today, I believe that the drama of the city's I can't breathe efforts would have to be told in a certain way. It would have to be tragicomic in tone. This needs explanation.

First, this drama would have document the sheer tragedy of the fact that "Chicago has lost two generations of young people to gangs and drugs", as Mayor Richard M. Daley put it in 1992. (Today, of course, that total is three generations and counting.)

Second: into this tragedy would be infused rich veins of the dark, gallows humor that Chicagoans - police, young people, politicians, community activists and journalists - have developed in the face of the city's often laughable attempts to stop youth violence.

Now let's take a look at this Chicago scenario from a national perspective. For years national news media have pilloried Chicago as the Murder Capital of America. But when Chicago's media-driven I Can Breathe efforts begin to succeed in making good things happen, national and international media will rush to extol Chicago as the first city in America to use its mainstream media to improve police/community relations.

How beautiful would that be? Today, however, none of these good things are happening. Not one is even on the horizon. So what is happening instead?  Dan Proft has answered that question to my satisfaction.

So then: what will it take for Chicago to jolt itself from its 50-year nightmare of youth violence? The answer sure ain't rocket science.

And the answer sure isn't blowing in the wind. For decades it's been staring us in the face from dawn to dusk on our TV screens and in our newspapers. Alarmist images like this Sun-Times logo only sink us deeper into our nightmare of apathy and helplessness.

I betcha anything Derrick Rose would agree with all of this.

Pro Football and Youth Violence: What Do They Have in Common? (Papa Bear George Halas had the right idea)

Nothing, you might think, nothing whatsoever. Chicagoans live for pro football. And they run like hell from youth violence. Case closed.

But look again. Look at Chicago's media. Think about how they make money: how they use both pro football and youth violence to create huge audiences of consumers - of sports fans and frightened citizens - which they then deliver to advertisers. That's how they make money. And they don't do it individually. Media do it collectively

But there's more. Ask yourself: what are Chicago's media doing collectively today to empower Chicagoans to solve youth violence and to create safe neighborhoods? All this by contrast with the  nonstop disempowering accounts of dangerous neighborhoods that presently dominates media coverage of youth violence in Chicago.

Not much. Next to  nothing. You see little bits and pieces here and there: the Tribune's commendably citizen participatory New Plan of Chicago. But not even other Tribune Corp media have shown any interest it it. Then, there are stories on Chicago Public Radio, but nonwhites in Chicago's rough neighborhoods don't listen to WBEZ. Finally, there's nothing meaningful on the city's mainstream TV stations, all of which are licensed in the public interest by the Federal Communications Commission.

Now contrast neglect of solutions for youth violence in Chicago's media with media's obsessive coverage of the search for solutions to the Bear's dismal 2014 season. It's mountains to molehills.

So here's my point: With all this in mind, would you believe that there was once a time in Chicago when George Halas' Chicago Bears couldn't beg, borrow or steal coverage of any kind in Chicago's media?

George Halas, back in his semipro days when media completely ignored pro football
The link of media neglect pro football and youth violence reduction hit me several weeks ago as I reading Tribune sports writer Don Pierson's terrific article about George Halas and the early days of pro football in Chicago. There was a time, Pierson says, when  
Bears founder George Halas, who practically invented play for pay, was his own press agent, writing articles in the 1920s for newspapers that thought the college game was the only pure and true football worth covering.
Pierson's source is Halas on Halas, Halas' 1979 autobiography. Thanks to Pierson, I just read it. There are books. And then there are Books. Books convey soul the writer. Halas on Halas is a Book. And a remedy the Bears' sorry 2014 season.

Get it for a buck at!

But Halas on Halas is much more than that. It shows how George Halas was able to create a symbiosis betweeen his Chicago Bears and Chicago's media. So do you want to work for safe neighborhoods in Chicago? Then do what Halas did: create a mutually beneficial symbiosis between the city's media and Chicagoans who want safe neighborhoods.

Halas, quoted by Pierson below, does a beautiful job of telling the story of how he himself initiated this symbiosis:
"At last the newspapers discovered the Bears. I kept writing articles about upcoming games, and by reading the papers I learned editors like superlatives. I blush when I think how many times I wrote that the next game was going to be the most difficult of the season, or how a new player was the fastest man in the West. I would write how fearless they were on the field, but what fine gentlemen they were at all other times.

"One glorious Monday I awoke to find the Chicago Tribune had made our game its top sports story. I went to the Tribune and thanked the young sports editor, Don Maxwell."
Leave it to Halas, of course, to point out the symbiotic relationship between his enterprise and newspapers: "Maxwell said, 'The Tribune and I should thank you. Sunday in autumn is a dull sports day. We need something exciting for our Monday pages.' "
Halas, in short, did the Tribune a big favor. He gave it a new way to sell papers. That's what proponents of violence reduction in Chicago can do with Chicago's media today: help media make violence reduction a profitable proposition.  

Sound impossible? Think again. This possibility could be inevitable.

OK, so there's no denying that "Pro football gives advertisers more bang for their buck than anything else, not even close", as Pierson observes. But that's only where things stand today.

So why would citizen-participatory violence reduction efforts give advertisers the more bang for their buck in years to come? There are lots of reasons. At this blog I talk them. Here's just two.

First, ask yourself: what really and truly matters more to the man on the street in Chicago and to the future of the Chicagoland region: the fantasy of a winning sports teams or the hard benefits, social and economic, of safe, prosperous, happy neighborhoods?

Second: Don Pierson concludes his piece by pointing to certain unsavory truths about pro football. These now threaten football's once-untouchable symbiosis with media. He identifies several: concussions, off-field violence and "Is football the next tobacco".

He calls them "cracks in pro football's golden egg, exposing an ominous core".

And he asserts that "truth always prevails, eventually".

What would George Halas say to all this? George Halas, who on page 321 of Halas on Halas lamented the decline of physical fitness in America and charged "Schools [with creating] elaborate sports programs, unfortunately designed not for the participation of all students but to develop the few super players. The great masses of students are moved from the playing fields to bleachers."

George Halas announces Mike Ditka as head coach, Jan 20 1982 (Tribune File Photo)

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Chicago flashback: How Daniel Burnham, redivivus, inspired the Chicago Tribune's New Plan of Chicago

(Print version of this long 3800 word post)

Ever wonder what goes on in that tiny ornate octagonal room at the very top of the Tribune Tower on Michigan Avenue? 

Well, it's reserved for seances. Back in the 1920's, legendary Tribune owner and Tribune Tower builder Colonel Robert McCormick found himself caught up in the backward-looking spirituality of the Gothic Revival, of which his Tribune Tower is a world-famous example. Convinced that great figures from Chicago's past could provide wise guidance and counsel to current Tribune editors whenever the city's present was so troubled or degraded as to defy all mortal comprehension, the Colonel fancifully topped off his Tower with an ornate, eight-windowed, private-access room and furnished it with a massive octagonal table equipped, at its center, with a funny-looking electronic device that somewhat resembled an old Chicago parking meter.

But this was no ordinary device. Once illuminated, it zapped out time-transcending magic beams in all directions through eons of spacetime until they found their way to the Alternate Universe of the Guiding Spirits of All Things Chicago (AUGSATC). 

For decades the octagonal tower-topping room sat vacant. But in early 2013, a desperate, felt need for guidance hit the Tribune Editors hard. Alarmed and confounded by Chicago's inability to make headway on a set of thorny, intractable issues that included youth violence and a financial crisis, they feared mightily for the city's future. So in the dead of night they convened around the massive octagonal table and fired up its magic beam, their fingers crossed in hopes of communing with no less a figure than Chicago's original planner, Daniel Burnham.

Furtively captured in this street level photo, the beams flashed until one of them entered the AUGSATC to find Daniel Burnham engaged in heated conversation about the trials, triumphs and tribulations of early 21st century Chicago with revered Chicagoans Bill Veeck, Mike Royko, Richard M. Daley, Minnie Minoso, Harold Washington and the courageous, formative educator Ella Flagg Young.

Back at the Tribune Tower, you can only imagine the surprise on the Editors' faces when it wasn't the disembodied spirit Daniel Burnham that materialized before them but, so far as they could tell, the actual, physical person of the primary author of the 1909 Plan of Chicago (appearing in person no doubt because Chicago planners had so utterly neglected him for over a hundred years).

Upon his arrival, the great man, for his part, looked anything but pleased to meet his hosts. Renowned in his time for his regal, upright bearing, charismatic charm, and outsized mustache, Burnham on this occasion had a look of worried yet fierce, even defiant intensity.

Meticulously dressed as always, and standing imposingly over the seated Editors at well over six feet, Chicago's visionary civic architect made it abundantly clear that he was in no mood to fool around. 

"What in the name of heaven," he thundered in his booming bass voice, "has become of the Spirit of Chicago? And happened to the I Will spirit my generation bequeathed to you? How on earth could have Chicago have lost it, thrown it away, discarded it in favor of the small-minded Where's Mine spirit that degrades our city today?"

Stunned, the Editors sat back.  Fleetingly, an image of the Spirit of Chicago, a "cruise ship designed for fun" and moored at Navy Pier, struck one of them. Happily he kept it to himself.

Shortly the Editors recovered, and welcomed Burnham with all due courtesy and respect. Burnham was offered the place of honor at the massive octagonal table, and just as Colonel McCormick had intended, there ensued a down-to-earth, businesslike conversation that before long produced agreement on several points:
  • Chicago has lost its way. Its educational, justice, revenue-generating and political systems are broken. And many informed Chicagoans accept that these systems are beyond repair.
  • Paralyzed and demoralized by this set of interconnected crises, Chicago lacks the energy to address them in their totality. It lacks also the vision to create a comprehensive plan for its future.
  • The sudden, transformative impact on Chicago of modern digital communications technologies has utterly disrupted the print and broadcast media that once comprised the city's stable public communications system. Both of Chicago's daily newspapers, for instance, are emerging from bankruptcy.
"All of this," one of the Editors said, "is why we have invited you to join us. Frankly, we've waited far too long. In its time, your Plan of Chicago was created to help Chicago adapt to momentous, unforeseen change. We'd be most grateful if you could help Chicago adapt to similar change in ours."

"In that case I will require your undivided attention," Burnham responded, "as my time with you is brief. Know that I am entirely familiar with your situation. Know also that I believe that Chicago's future hinges on your commitment to a digital-age idea that I will leave with you. I hope it will be of service. But it must be set in a historical context. May I proceed?" The Editors nodded their assent.

"I would ask you, first, to bear in mind that the Plan of Chicago, as it appeared when published in 1909, was in the main mainly a plan for Chicago's physical infrastructure.

"It omitted something crucial. My original three-hundred page, hand-written draft of the Plan included a detailed social and economic infrastructure. In it were components for housing, health, public education and recreation, all designed to ensure the health and happiness of all Chicagoans,  including our working classes and poor. Unfortunately, the Plan's sponsors, the Commercial Club, saw fit to excise most of these components from the final published version.

"Historian Kristen Shaffer has said of this draft that "had it been published, the Plan of Chicago would hold a very different position in the history of city planning.

"Chicago's current social crises arguably have their roots in this fatal excision. May I add that they key to solving them - the resources and the will - lie in your business community, and especially in the ability of your commercial or mainstream media to strengthen the will of the people. But the business community, however, has always blinded itself to the critical connection that exists between good schools, good hospitals and decent living and recreational conditions, on one hand, and a vital economy fueled by a skilled, productive, satisfied labor force, on the other.

"Chicago's future, I can assure you, will be no different from its past until all Chicagoans are given the chance to take fair share of responsibility for building a city that works for all residents, not from some or even most."

On this point, most of the Tribune Editors, themselves being "upperclass progressive Republicans", as biographer Thomas S. Hines has said of Burnham, nodded agreement.

Burnham continued. "Look at Chicago today. It has been decades since city planners gave serious thought to planning comprehensively for the city's future. A recent history of city planning in Chicago over the past fifty years makes this point.

"Given this neglect, it goes without saying that Chicago must plan its physical infrastructure anew. And must plan as well for its social and economic infrastructure, given the crippling human and economic consequences of the explosion of youth violence and the endemic poverty that blights huge portions of Chicago today."

"There is no denying the extraordinary efforts that the people of Chicago have recently made to beautify their city. Chicago historian Kenan Heise describes them in Chicago the Beautiful: A City Reborn

"This is splendid. But Chicago's best future calls for comparable citizen involvement in the planning process.

Then he paused. "Are you with me?" he asked bluntly. Whether sincerely or perfunctorily, the Editors nodded their assent. Many had been thinking along these lines for some time. 

"In that case, I come now to the digital-age idea I want to leave with you. But I caution you: initially, this idea will strike you as the very stuff of fantasy. As wildest speculation. On second thought, however, I hope  you will see not only the utility of it but the absolute necessity for it, dictated by the fact of your living in age of information and of constant, interactive communications.

"At present, your plans for Chicago's future, for the most part, are plans for the city's physical and economic infrastructures. Only one - that of Chicago Metropolis Strategies - has seen fit to focus on Chicago's social infrastructure. By contrast with these plans, the large idea I wish you to consider is this:
To ensure its well being in a digital age, Chicago above all needs a plan for its mental infrastructure. 
"Chicago needs, in other words, a citizen-empowering public communications system comprised of freely participating print and electronic media: media that are enthusiastically giving their audiences an ongoing, informed voice in the government decisions that affect their lives."

Not surprisingly, this thought hardly struck a chord with the Editors. Burnham observed shaking heads and glazed looks on their faces. Yet he went on as if he had seen open-minded interest.

"Gentlemen, on at least one point I am quite certain that we can agree: your digital age is one of uncertainty. It is one of unprecedented, incessant newness. And I hope, furthermore, that we can also agree that this age possesses an obvious even axiomatic political certainty. It is one whose negative outcomes are all too visible in Chicago and around the world as well:
In a digital age, citizens (and governments) either learn to work together or, failing that, entire societies - democracies especially - rapidly destabilize and become autocratic.
Burnham looked around the table. The Editors looked back. At least he now had their attention. "Affluent Chicagoans have only the vaguest idea," he went on, "of what it takes for the city's working classes merely to survive today. Most well-to-do Chicagoans appear to be unconcerned with the overwhelming evidence that democracy's root promise of equal opportunity is now all but meaningless for perhaps a third of Chicago's 2.7 million residents.

"The most visible sign of this breakdown of citizenship, and in addition a major cause of it, is seen by all Chicagoans at election time every two years in the flood of televised attack ads that with each election increasingly determine your election outcomes.

"Let us now think constructively. Gentlemen, at this moment you may or may not be able to imagine Chicagoans and City Hall working together secure the city's future, and doing so in the pages and programs of Chicago's print and electronic media. But if Chicago is to survive and thrive in a digital age, I submit that the city now has no choice but to do so.

"Chicago, like other cities, has seen a rapid declines of population and of citizenship as well, of which steadily declining voter turnouts are but one example. Citizens today live in a culture driven by commercial media that exist primarily to deliver consumers to advertisers. Media treat citizens as consumers. Yet the viability of any community hinges on the existence of a healthy balance between these two roles. As I said in my 1909 Plan:
After all has been said, good citizenship is the prime object of good city planning.
At this, Burnham paused. Looking around, he saw a mixed reaction: looks of dismay on the faces of some Editors but nods of agreement on those of others.

Leaning back, Burnham folded his hands, as if to relax. But this gesture was deceptive. "Can we agree", he said, his eyes fixed squarely on those of the Editors, but in a voice that was softened, even intimate: "Can we at the very least agree that Chicago's media - public, community, social and mainstream - have at their disposal all of the communications resources and creative talent needed to create a mental infrastructure of the kind that I propose?

"Can we furthermore agree that these resources could be used to do for citizenship what they now do for entertainment, travel, health, commerce, shopping and sports?"

At this, a few Editors looked unsettled. Hearing jovial side talk about the impossibility of ever getting Chicago's media into the same room, let alone working together on the same project, Burnham paused.

Then all talk ceased. Silence filled the octagonal room. An impasse had been reached. At length, one Editor had the wit to articulate, much to the amusement of the others, a question that finally broke the ice:

"Mr. Burnham, we would be happy to commit ourselves to this project if you, for your part, would be willing to convene Chicago's other media so they can make the same commitment."

With just a hint of a smile, Burnham continued as follows: "It is paramount that Chicago's mental infrastructure be credible. And that it possess integrity. For this reason, it will not be possible for any single medium or group of media to own this precious civic resource. Nor can City Hall control it. This resource must be universally seen as belonging to Chicago and to Chicagoans.
Chicago's mental infrastructure, like its 25 mile public lakefront, must be seen by all as Chicago's gift to itself and to its people.

"From this it follows that Chicagoans themselves will have significant, visible roles to play in creating this civic resource. Its creation will be an evolving, citywide project that taps deep into the energies and talents of all Chicagoans: those of its community and government leaders, its non-profits, its businesses, and its places of worship. And most important," he added, "its creation will reflect the energies and talents of the students at area schools and universities who literally represent Chicago's future."

Predictably, these assertions prompted all manner of questions about governance from the Editors. The octagonal room was soon buzzing with them. Who would direct and manage this civic resource? Who would protect it from abuse, ensure its integrity, oversee its funding? These concerns all boiled to to a single question: how can anyone possibly create a public communications system that belongs to everyone - and hence to no one in particular?

To such questions Burnham had answers, and sound ones. At the same time, however, he insisted that his proposal for a mental infrastructure had a degree of risk to it: prudent risk, he called it. He readily affirmed that this resource was an experiment, like democracy itself, just as Thomas Jefferson had spoken of "our experiment of democracy". 

"And while the mental infrastructure I wish you to consider is an enterprise that may succeed or fail," Burnham said, again leaning forward, "I would challenge anyone in this room to devise a better digital-age test to secure the survival and health of the idea government of the people, by the people and for the people."

With this thought, the great man folded his hands and fell silent. Not one responded to him. Hearing none, he slumped back into his chair, suddenly and completely lost in thought. In an instant he had aged 20 years.

Preoccupied, Burnham now stared at nothing in particular, tired of a sudden, world-weary.

"Gentlemen", he finally said, coming around, "I have a confession to make. There was a time when I spoke fondly of the Plan of Chicago as a living thing . . . asserting itself with ever-growing insistence as the years go by, its spirit passing on and regenerating itself from one generation to the next.  I even spoke of the City developing a soul, as historian Carl Smith has noted.

Unfortunately, however, history seems to have proven me wrong in both of these fond hopes."

The Editors felt his pain.  At length, one responded, speaking for all. "As long as there is a lakefront, Chicago will remember and cherish your contributions to our city. But, Mr. Burnham, you are asking for a great deal. As a newspaper we of course have a civic responsibility. But for newspapers these are hard times, as we said earlier. I hate to disappoint you, but citizenship doesn't sell newspapers or attract advertisers. Sports and violence do."

"So then," Burnham said quietly, without a moment's hesitation, "Will it be sports, violence or active citizens who ultimately liberate your broken, demoralized city from the multiple crises which by your own account now engulf it ?"

"Gentlemen, tell me frankly: what matters more to Chicagoans: the fate of their sports teams or the fate of their families, neighborhoods, city and region?

Another silence ensued until a younger Editor made bold to say, "OK, well, so you have us there. Reality trumps fantasy." Mild laughter filled the octagonal room.

Burnham then repeated to the Editors what he had insisted to businessmen in his time: "With things as they should be, every business man in Chicago would make more money than he does now."

With this, he sat up, suddenly re-energized, even rejuvenated. Standing and looking out eastward to the sight of Chicago's Navy Pier - one of his own creations - he turned to the Editors with yet another question.

"Commercial media today seek large audiences. So what audience is larger: is it the fan base for your Bears, Bulls or Cubs, Sox or Blackhawks or is it the audience of all Chicagoans, young and old, city and suburban, rich and poor, citizens and public officials?"

Hearing this, the Editors could only shrug their assent. Burnham rolled on.

"Gentlemen, strange as it may sound, you have yet to enter the digital age. In an age of interactive communications, passive citizenship - telling people what to do, even informing them (as essential as doing so is) - does not sell newspapers. What sells newspapers is active citizenship: listening to citizens, connecting them, empowering them to make all manner of useful changes that everyone can see. All of this Chicago's media could have done twenty years ago, when the city's problems were as serious as they are today. But they didn't, and all of them lost market share to online media."

"There's an inspirational film of yours about baseball. If you build it, it says, they will come. A few at first. Then, in numbers. And finally en masse.

So let it be with the idea I came here to leave with you. Let Chicagoans finally, and at long last, discover for themselves - gradually - the enormous benefits and deep satisfactions of active citizenship, as people like Jane Addams called it my time. 

Again, Burnham did not wait for a response. "Gentlemen, before I leave you, I must say two things. First, a comment on a saying for which I am remembered:

"My comment is this: what in fact has the magic to stir men's blood is not so much big plans in themselves as the media through which they are communicated to the public. "The medium is the message," as a media scholar said fifty years ago. In my time the dominant medium, the daily newspaper aside, was the book.

And in the Plan of Chicago, it was the noble, logical diagram of my plan, so splendidly illustrated by Jules GuĂ©rin, that moved Chicago to realize as much of it as Chicago did." It is not without reason that historian Finis Farr has called this book “one of the most beautiful examples of book-making the world has seen”. 

"So much for media in my time. Today, Chicago has no single dominant medium or media, but rather a host of media that have the magic to stir men's blood. And indeed they stir it, incessantly. Yet the blood they stir for the most part promotes fear and misunderstanding. They polarize and alienate Chicagoans of all ages and backgrounds from each other.

"The trick now is for your media to inform, inspire and mobilize Chicagoans - young people included - to act constructively on the matters that vitally affect their lives.

"From the standpoint of monetary profit, I would remind you of a truth that marketers have seen more clearly than politicians or media professionals: loyalty to a brand, party or medium begins at an early age.

"There is a precedent for involving young people - even very young people - as active citizens in building Chicago's future. In my time, the Chicago School Board for many years made a simplified account of my Plan - Wacker's Manual of the Plan of Chicago - required reading for all Chicago students at the eighth grade level". This book opened with an explicit statement about "the part Chicago school children are to play in creating the greater Chicago of the future." 

Wacker's Manual as CPS 8th Graders saw it Burnham's time.

Wacker's Manual as we see it today.

"A century ago, the teaching of citizenship was a one-way, top-down matter of adults molding children into citizens. But times have changed! Today, the recovery of citizenship calls for young people and adults to listen to each other, and to respect each other's intelligence and experience. It calls for ongoing, problem-solving, opportunity-maximizing civic dialogues on any and all matters of importance to them.

"In Chicago's high-crime neighborhoods, for instance, these dialogues might take place in any number of venues. They could occur, for instance, between beat police officers and the youngsters they see daily on the street. They could occur in small groups, in large groups, or in individualized mentoring settings."  

"Gentlemen," Burnham finally said, "I see my time with you is up," as an audible ting was heard from the parking meter-like device at the center of the octagonal table. "I assure you, all of us at the AUGSATC will closely follow your response to our conversation tonight, whatever it may be. With luck, and God willing, this meeting will not be our last.

The Editors assured him it would not. And with that, the great man rose from the table and dematerialized into the night. The room felt empty. The Editors suddenly felt curiously alone. Quietly they themselves dispersed into the night, each absorbed in his or her own thoughts.

Next day, however, they met and compared notes, and began intensive planning. Months later, the Tribune launched its Burnham-inspired New Plan of Chicago with a truly memorable editorial that all Chicagoans should read. It began as follows:

So where does all this leave us? Will tthe Tribune Editors once again fire up their magic beam to summon Chicago's original planner to the octagonal table? And if Burnham answers their call, what will he have to say about Year One of the New Plan's promise to "finish Burnham's work"? It could be, however, that the Tribune Editors will feel the need to summon up some other great figure from Chicago's past. If so, who should that figure be? Stay tuned and vote YOUR choice at our reader participatory poll (right sidebar).

One more thing. If the topic comes up, what will some great figure from Chicago's past have to say about the five Plans for Chicago's future that are now on the table? Here they are:
  1. From Mayor Emanuel (parts of a plan, actually, that do not exist in a single source):
    1. $7 billion dollar Infrastructure Plan (2012)
    2. Youth Violence Plan (2012)
    3. "Plan to Turn Around Chicago" - Time Magazine (2013)
    4. Launched in June, 2013, ThriveChicago is a local "cradle to career" education program  modeled on the national StriveTogether Network, "which provides a roadmap for harnessing the power of collective impact." Here's the Dec 4 press release from the Mayor's office announcing the ThriveChicago's  "Comprehensive Baseline Report" of accomplishments to date. (2014)
    5. Mayor Emanuel announces the launch of his own online community forum, CHIdeas. (2014) 
    6. As reported on WBEZ radio, The Mayor's Commission for a Safer Chicago released its Strategic Plan for 2015 (December 16, 2014) 
  2. The Tribune's New Plan of Chicago  (2013, ongoing)
  3.  The Chicago Community Trust's OnTheTable invitation to 10,000 Chicagoans to "Pull up a chair and shape our community's future" (2014)
  4. Chicago Metropolitan Planning Agency (CMAP): GoTo 2040. an elaborate plan, focused mainly on economic development and physical infrastructure. Concerned to link city and suburbs. Social issues and education, are "not in our funding stream", says one staffer.
  5. Chicago Metropolis Strategies' (CMS) plan entitled Chicago Metropolis 2020 (2001). This quite comprehensive plan has the strongest focus on social issues of any plan in the past 30 years. CMS was funded by the Commercial Club of Chicago, the sponsors of Burnham's 1909 Plan. But CMS ceased operations in March, 2014, with its activities being farmed out to other groups.

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