As part of the Chicago COVID-19 Recovery Task Force, EY took steps to confirm an inclusive and equitable recovery across the city’s South, West and North Sides.
Chicago has one of the most diverse economies in the country, with abundant talent, strong infrastructure assets and a central location that makes it easily accessible. It also has vulnerabilities borne of generational inequality and systemic racism, weaknesses that were exposed like never before when the world was rocked in 2020 by the pandemic.
These and other problems that existed in Chicago prior to the COVID-19 pandemic served as the foundation for a vast, multi-faceted effort not only to help the city and its people recover from this global health crisis, but also to thrive in 2021 and beyond.
The Chicago COVID-19 Recovery Task Force¹ (the Task Force) was formed in April 2020, comprised of more than 100 leaders from public, private and social sectors. Task Force committees identified 17 recommendations across five core priorities for Chicago and its surrounding communities. From the outset, there was a sharp focus on not only economic recovery but also emotional recovery from the stress and grief caused by the pandemic. Addressing challenges, such as intergenerational poverty and widespread economic hardship, that were only made worse by COVID-19 became a top priority. And, when tensions rose once more in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, the resolve to build a better Chicago grew even stronger.
For all the challenges we face, this crisis also affords us a once-in-a-generation opportunity to make this city work even better by creating a new economic model based on inclusive growth that takes a holistic approach to development across both downtown and our neighborhoods.
EY US spent eight weeks in consultation with the Task Force and the Civic Consulting Alliance, focusing on three primary objectives that would seek to establish a project management framework for the initiative: develop a governance structure, develop and facilitate clear strategies to achieve desired outcomes and pilot a weekly cadence that would become self-sufficient after the eight-week period.
A wide-ranging amount of data was compiled to illustrate the magnitude of the challenge Chicago faces in driving inclusive and equitable recovery. For instance, children growing up on the city’s South and West Sides earn less than $34,000 annually as adults. And, one in six Chicago residents require food security assistance, primarily in the same parts of the city, with more than 15 community areas facing a 35% to 58% rate of food insecurity, according to the Task Force.
INVEST South/West is a collaborative effort between city government, businesses, philanthropies and community leaders to support these parts of town. The initiative aligns more than $750 million in funding through 2022 to reactivate neighborhood cores that have historically served as focal points for activity and drive inclusive growth. We Will Chicago is a new citywide plan intended to serve as a framework to justify and guide future budgeting, policy and development decisions across Chicago.
“One of the most encouraging parts of the work happening in Chicago is the camaraderie among those who are working tirelessly to position the city for success,” says Jennifer Pitts, who lives in Chicago and serves as an EY US Strategy and Transactions Principal.
“Everyone had that common goal,” Pitts says. “Their interest was in doing what’s best for the city and developing a plan that gives Chicago the tools, the resources and the infrastructure it needs to recover in the best way possible.”