The blog of the Urban Institute
April 18, 2019

The $10 Million “Chicago Prize” Seeks to Boost Neighborhood Revitalization

Chicago has long been a leader in analyzing  complex urban problems and testing innovative community development strategies to revitalize disinvested neighborhoods. But like in other major US cities, Chicago’s strides have yet to overcome the barriers that prevent many neighborhoods and residents from reaching their full potential.

Unequal access to private capital is a major barrier to inclusive economic opportunity. To address this barrier, the Pritzker Traubert Foundation (PTF) recently launched the Chicago Prize, a philanthropic challenge that will award a $10 million grant to a community-led initiative that invests in the physical revitalization of neighborhoods on the South and West Sides of Chicago. The Chicago Prize will support physical revitalization projects that can strengthen civic infrastructure and catalyze economic activity, improving the lives of current residents.  

A recent Urban Institute research report offers guidance for those involved with the Chicago Prize, synthesizing years of place-based revitalization practice and research into a few key principles that elevate the importance of building civic infrastructure as a core element of place-based initiatives.

We spoke with PTF president Cindy Moelis to learn more about the Chicago Prize and PTF’s motivations and goals.

How does the Chicago Prize align with PTF’s grant making strategy?

PTF is driven by the conviction that Chicago is a city with unlimited potential, but that to reach its potential, it must reduce the opportunity gap between neighborhoods. PTF seeks to drive change not just by funding promising nonprofits and local efforts but also by helping build collaboration and elevating strong leaders.

In our work, we’ve come to appreciate that Chicago benefits from many initiatives and projects that support residents and create stronger places but are not yet at the scale that’s needed because of limited access to capital. Knowing that community development is complex and takes time, we see the Chicago Prize as an opportunity for PTF to help close the opportunity gap in neighborhoods by encouraging more collaborative approaches to community development and providing a significant commitment of resources and partnership around a single potentially transformative initiative.

What are some of the main goals of the Chicago Prize?

Through a competitive process, the Chicago Prize will provide patient capital that can finance creative, community-led projects that otherwise might not be possible. We hope the Chicago Prize encourages deeper collaboration as community-led initiatives assemble the right expertise and partners to achieve their visions and as funders and investors come together to take a closer look at neighborhood-based opportunities and help make these initiatives a reality.

By launching a competition, we want to provide a fair, open, transparent process for organizations to present their ideas, apply for funding, and benefit from the feedback of an expert panel of judges.

Why focus on the South and West Sides?

Recent research suggests that moving to a better neighborhood can improve the economic trajectories of low-income children. But people shouldn’t have to leave their neighborhoods to find opportunity. We want to invest in communities to make every community an opportunity area.

Despite decades of underinvestment on Chicago’s South and West Sides, we know there are incredible assets, initiatives, and leaders that could be the basis for meaningful change. We are not naïve about the challenges, but we believe additional capital can help communities accelerate their best ideas.

What do you think the Chicago Prize can accomplish in the near and long term? What does success look like?

We have two main goals. First, we hope the size of the prize will encourage people to submit bold ideas that would bring about innovation and significant change. Because the Chicago Prize grant is so flexible, we’re hoping it can help communities unlock and leverage resources they may not otherwise be able to access.

Second, because improving physical assets alone is not enough to stimulate economic impact, we’re hoping to surface and accelerate initiatives that deliberately strengthen civic infrastructure. The best proposals will honor and consider neighborhood history, culture, customs, and practices in the context of what they’re building. We believe that improvements in both physical conditions and civic infrastructure stand a better chance of increasing the economic and social benefits for community residents.

Because our competition welcomes a broad variety of revitalization projects, we have not specified the indicators of the change we hope to see. Instead, we are asking people on the ground to tell us why their initiative is the right initiative—why it’s the right action at the right time in the right place—and then tell us what impact they intend to have.

What does PTF hope to learn from the Chicago Prize? What can Chicago learn?

PTF wants to become the most effective place-based funder we can be. We hope to learn more about whether changes to the built environment—if intentionally paired with improvements to civic infrastructure—create meaningful economic and social benefits and become catalysts for further transformation and investment. We also think the Chicago Prize can help us better understand what other capacities and supports communities need to unlock similar capital and do similar-sized initiatives in the future.

PTF will also provide capacity building grants to the finalists, which will help us learn about the ingredients that are necessary for an initiative to succeed. We believe that community collaboration is one such ingredient, and therefore, we’ve put a strong emphasis on the idea of resident engagement and benefit throughout. We’re excited to learn more about how to do this well.

We’re committed to sharing what we learn with others in Chicago and across the country. We hope we can help inform the broader economic and community development fields on how to design and implement place-based interventions that maximize community benefit.

Photo by Iris_Images via Shutterstock.

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