Our region’s communities have great strengths, but today face extraordinary challenges. Recovering from the pandemic will require an unprecedented effort. And racism and other barriers limit economic opportunities for too many people, even in good times. Project Hometown is the Chicago Fed’s commitment to engaging all of our communities as they confront these challenges. Project Hometown will bring together civic leaders, expert researchers, Chicago Fed staff, and concerned residents. Through these diverse perspectives, Project Hometown will examine how our hometowns can recover from the pandemic, overcome longstanding inequities, grow stronger, and provide all people with the opportunity to thrive.

A Message From President Evans
There are many elements of this crisis that we need to use as a catalyst to really think about the future of Chicago...

Jennifer Scanlon
Chair, Commercial Club of Chicago
CEO, UL Corp.

Event Recap

Indianapolis after the Covid-19 Pandemic

Event page | Event summary

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Bridging the Digital Divide for an Inclusive Future January 28

The pandemic has put into stark relief the ramifications of being on the wrong side of the digital divide. The economic future of both urban and rural places depends on overcoming the digital divide, as demonstrated by the effects of the pandemic. In particular, the strains on our public education system since March may have impacts lasting a generation or longer, but digital literacy is also a critical gateway in the path to living-wage employment. In addition to remote learning across the educational spectrum, digital exclusion (or marginalization) has impacted access to stimulus benefits; efforts to rapidly scale tele-medicine; work from home; and even basic tasks, such as banking, shopping online for food and other necessities, and connecting with family and friends during a period of crisis. This panel will bring together experts to discuss the current status of the digital divide, while highlighting solutions that build broadband infrastructure where needed, promote digital literacy, and provide access to digital devices.

Indianapolis after the Covid-19 Pandemic December 18

This virtual event will explore the efforts under way as Indianapolis reopens its economy and strives to become more resilient for the future. A discussion among government, business, healthcare, nonprofit, and philanthropic leaders will feature insights into how Indianapolis can rebuild and grow a resilient economy for all its residents.

Visions for Milwaukee’s Future: A Community Forum December 1

Government, community, economic development, and business leaders will come together to discuss their visions for Milwaukee’s future. A panel discussion will explore how Milwaukee can recover from the challenges posed by a pandemic, record unemployment, and social unrest. The discussion will also focus on opportunities to rebuild Milwaukee’s economy so that all residents can benefit from a strong future for the city.

Can Wisconsin Rapids Reinvent Itself Once Again? November 18

The pandemic precipitated a sudden and dramatic decline in the demand for paper produced at the Wisconsin Rapids paper mill, accelerating long term global trends and ushering in transformational change. On July 31, 2020, the paper mill was indefinitely shut down, laying off over 900 workers. Paper had been continuously produced at the mill since 1904 and the shutdown has created an economic, social and cultural tsunami. This event will explore the lessons from the past on what made Wisconsin Rapids thrive and opportunities for central Wisconsin to reinvent itself for the future.

Detroit Community Forum: Building a Strong and More Equitable FutureNovember 12

This virtual event brought together government, community, health, and business leaders to discuss visions for how Detroit recovers from the Covid-19 crisis. Charles Evans, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, moderated a discussion exploring how Detroit can meet the public health challenge of the Covid-19 pandemic, rebuild the economy, and ensure all residents share in a strong future for the city.

The Future of Innovation in an Inclusive Chicago October 19

Chicago is a global hub for innovation in finance, technology, and other sectors. Yet continued innovation is not a given, and the makeup of the city’s population has not been reflected in its most innovative industries. How can Chicago’s history of innovation continue, and how can it include all residents of the city?

Health Care and Jobs during the Pandemic:
A Closer Look at Chicago’s Neighborhoods
September 25

In Chicago, as in all major cities, the health impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has been felt disproportionally by some groups and neighborhoods. Similarly, the decline in economic activity necessary to reduce the spread of the virus has had a disparate impact on employment around the city. Our goal for this forum was to bring together diverse perspectives on how neighborhoods can recover from the pandemic, overcome long-standing inequities, and rebuild for resilience.

Rebuilding for Resilience: How Will Iowa Thrive After the Pandemic? August 18

What will the recovery from the pandemic look like for Iowa, and what role will different sectors play? The state faces many challenges, especially given its urban and rural economies and the importance of its farms and businesses to the nation’s supply chain. Government, industrial, and nonprofit leaders will consider the challenges Iowa has faced during the pandemic, as well as the roles that government, philanthropy, education, and the business sector can play to ensure a recovery in which all Iowans can thrive.

The Role of Urban Planning, Architecture,
and Transportation in Chicago’s Future
August 17

Chicago, like most major cities, has seen uneven economic development over the last two decades. Growth in and near downtown has been pronounced, while neighborhoods on the South Side and West Side have seen disinvestment and population loss. Experts will examine the roles of urban planning, architecture, and transportation in Chicago’s growth, how the physical features of the city may adapt to the pandemic, and how the city’s infrastructure and built environment can support inclusive economic growth.

Workforce Challenges During Chicago’s Recovery August 10

How can government, philanthropy, education, and the private sector work together to make workplaces safe under pandemic conditions and get displaced workers back to work? What strategies can be built into such efforts to improve the long-run job prospects for racially diverse and economically disadvantaged workers? Chicago leaders from business, labor, education, and workforce development organizations will discuss these questions.

Public Education in Chicago During the Pandemic –
Challenges for Fall 2020
August 3

The pandemic forced a sudden transition to remote learning. Although students, parents and educators are striving to adapt, the risk of massive and inequitable losses of learning still remains. And even before the pandemic, Chicago Public Schools (CPS), like many other school districts, was confronting challenges in educating all its students. Education leaders and stakeholders will discuss the challenges and opportunities confronting CPS and its students, and how we might address them.

Minority Middle Neighborhoods in a Time of Crisis July 29

Chicago has a rich history of minority "middle" neighborhoods. These are neighborhoods that for decades had a large base of middle- and working-class residents, high rates of homeownership, and active commercial corridors. But as places in the city have become more unequal, these predominantly minority neighborhoods have become increasingly vulnerable to economic shocks. Covid-19, the economic slowdown, and civil unrest have magnified the challenges.

Visions for Chicago's Future: A Community Forum July 1

The virtual event brought together government, community, health, and business leaders to discuss visions for how Chicago recovers from the Covid-19 crisis.

Featured Publications

Pathways for an Inclusive and Resilient Economy in Indianapolis

By Caroline Beetz Fenske

The goal of the December 18 event, “Indianapolis After the Covid-19 Pandemic,” was to hear from a cross section of Indianapolis leaders on their efforts to open the economy in a way that is inclusive and creates resiliency for the future, explained Garvester Kelley, regional program lead for community and economic development at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. This virtual discussion was the 12th in a series of Project Hometown events that have brought together civic leaders, researchers, policymakers, Chicago Fed staff, and interested community members across the Seventh District.

Visions for a More Resilient and Inclusive Milwaukee

By Caroline Beetz Fenske

A virtual panel on visions for Milwaukee’s future was held on December 1 as part of the Chicago Fed’s Project Hometown series. Jeremiah Boyle, assistant vice president and managing director of community and economic development at the Chicago Fed, moderated the discussion. Boyle has a long-term connection to Milwaukee that continues today. Boyle’s daughter is a senior at the University of Wisconsin—Milwaukee, and “she has benefited from a truly welcoming community in the city,” he said. In his prior role at the Chicago Fed, Boyle worked directly with Wisconsin and Milwaukee. Also, a decade ago, he contributed to a joint Federal Reserve—Brookings Institute study on concentrated poverty in America, where he wrote a case study focusing on the Northwest side of Milwaukee. This Chicago Fed community forum focused on ways to rebuild Milwaukee so that all members of society can prosper, with a particular emphasis on reversing racial inequalities.

What the Closure of a Paper Mill Means for the Community of Wisconsin Rapids

By Caroline Beetz Fenske

Can Wisconsin Rapids reinvent itself once again? This was the central question raised at the November 18 Project Hometown virtual panel moderated by Steven Kuehl, senior advisor on community and economic development at the Chicago Fed. The paper mill in Wisconsin Rapids closed down on July 31 after 116 years of continuous operation, explained Kuehl. “The pandemic precipitated a sudden and dramatic decline in demand for paper produced at the Rapids mill,” accelerating long-term global trends in the industry, said Kuehl. The closure led to the loss of over 900 jobs to the detriment of the Wisconsin Rapids community and, more broadly, central Wisconsin.

Rewriting the Rules to Expand Opportunity in Detroit

By Caroline Beetz Fenske

A Project Hometown community forum brought leaders from government, business, the health sector, and the philanthropic community together to discuss initiatives to address the diverse challenges facing Detroit and Michigan, including policies aimed at reversing racial inequities that limit economic opportunities for all.

Making Innovation Inclusive: Engaging the Public and Private Sectors to Create Growth and Opportunity for All

By Lisa Camner McKay

Innovation has been an essential driver of economic growth in Chicago. However, the benefits of that innovation have not been experienced equally across the city’s diverse population. The sustained health and economic crises caused by the Covid-19 pandemic have served as a poignant illustration of these disparities. On October 19, Project Hometown convened thought leaders from the private and public sectors to discuss how Chicago could secure its role as a global hub for innovation in a way that will offer opportunity for all of the city’s residents.

From Crisis to Good Trouble: How Chicago’s Neighborhoods are Navigating the Covid Pandemic

By Lisa Camner McKay

Experts from five Chicago nonprofit organizations and research institutions convened for a Project Hometown event on September 25 to discuss the coronavirus pandemic’s impact on the health and economy of Chicago’s diverse neighborhoods. While the pandemic has affected everyone, it hasn’t affected everyone equally. Both health and economic outcomes have been more severe for Chicago’s communities of color, panelists described.

Attracting Investments to Opportunity Zones and Diverse Perspectives on Community Engagement

By Brianna Smith and Nathan Anderson

This blog shares diverse perspectives about community engagement in opportunity zone projects based on interviews with stakeholders.

Closing Racial Economic Gaps During Covid-19

By Jane Dokko and Jung Sakong

The severe and prolonged economic consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic have stressed the earnings of tens of millions of households. The pandemic has also widened the racial disparities in health and economic outcomes for Black and Latinx families. And the existing social safety net has not provided sufficient cash and in-kind transfers to support families dealing with the impacts of surging unemployment, waning fiscal relief, and extended remote learning. These shortfalls are likely to affect not just households’ immediate needs, but also, as research suggests, their long-term economic prospects.

More Chicago Properties at Risk for Flooding Than Flood Maps Suggest

By Andy Polacek

After the third straight “wettest May on record” for Chicago, if you’re a Chicagoan you may be wondering if your home is at risk for serious flooding. One way to figure this out might be to look at the flood maps provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the federal agency in charge of national disaster preparedness and relief. FEMA flood maps say that only 0.3% of properties (three out of every 1,000) should flood more than once every 100 years. If you base your opinion of your home’s flood risk on FEMA flood maps alone, you will probably think your home is safe. However, if you watched the news coverage of the May 2020 storms with images of the Riverwalk underwater, the Willis Tower as a dark obelisk in the skyline after its basement flooded, neighborhood streets turned into rivers, and yards turned into ponds, you may be thinking that risk assessment seems too low, and you’d be right. This blog discusses flooding in Chicago and why FEMA flood maps underrepresent flood risk in Chicago.

Iowa’s Road to Recovery and Growth

By Lisa Camner McKay

Iowa, like every U.S. state, has been challenged by the sudden health and economic crises caused by Covid-19. Then on August 10, a severe storm with winds exceeding 100-mph swept across the state, damaging crops and leaving hundreds of thousands of residents without power. To discuss Iowa’s road to recovery, the Chicago Fed’s Project Hometown hosted a panel discussion on Tuesday, August 18, with experts from the state who examined the roles that governments, businesses, and nonprofits can play in promoting an inclusive economic recovery for all of Iowa’s people and industries.

Pace, Scale, Quality: How Transportation, Urban Planning, and Architecture Can Build a Better Chicago

By Lisa Camner McKay

On Monday, August 17, the Chicago Fed’s Project Hometown convened a panel of experts to discuss the past failure and future promise of transportation, urban planning, and architecture to deliver an equitable quality of life across Chicago.

Safety, Equity, Partnership: Strategies to Get Chicago’s Workforce Back to Work

By Lisa Camner McKay

What will it take to get Chicago’s workforce safely back to work? A Project Hometown virtual community forum brought together business, labor, and education leaders to discuss measures to help workers navigate the public health and economic crises.

Reimagining Education: Chicago Public Schools During and After Covid-19

By Lisa Camner McKay

The Covid-19 pandemic has caused unprecedented disruption to in-person education. To discuss the challenges facing educators, students, and families, the Chicago Fed convened a panel of expert practitioners and researchers as part of its Project Hometown initiative. The panel explored the needs of different student populations and how education leaders can use this disruption to reimagine what schools might look like when in-person education resumes.

Begin with Your Block: Challenges and Prospects for Chicago’s Minority Middle Neighborhoods

By Lisa Camner McKay

Historically Chicago’s minority “middle” neighborhoods have been attractive places to live, with a large base of middle- and working-class residents, active business corridors, affordable housing, and proximity to the city’s center. Over the past 40 years, however, the disappearance of manufacturing jobs, discriminatory housing policies, and disinvestment have left minority middle neighborhoods particularly vulnerable to economic shocks. The current coronavirus pandemic has impacted almost every facet of economic life in these communities. Perhaps the most obvious distress is among small businesses, which have experienced a rapid and widespread decline in employment.

This blog post summarizes a Project Hometown panel discussion on Wednesday, July 29, that brought together practitioners and researchers to explore the challenges faced by Chicago’s minority middle neighborhoods.

Chicago Community Forum Explores Urban Challenges During Covid-19

By Amy Bickers and Mark Peters

The Chicago Fed hosted a community forum on Wednesday, July 1, that brought together government, civic, health, and business leaders to share their visions for how Chicago recovers from the Covid-19 crisis and rebuilds its economy. The discussion underscored the urgent need for Chicago to tackle its longstanding challenges of providing equal opportunity (especially in education and jobs), combating racism, and reducing wealth inequality as part of the city’s response to the pandemic.

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