Reflections from MPC’s new Vice President on how forced isolation creates opportunities to connect - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Reflections from MPC’s new Vice President on how forced isolation creates opportunities to connect

The pandemic highlights the importance of community, and has galvanized MPC to chart a new course toward collective action

The pandemic helped us to slow down and think more about the intersectionality of our work and the long-term impact that we want to have.

This time last year, our nation shut down as COVID-19 spread like wildfire across cities, countries, and continents. We collectively held our breath as the world pressed pause and our way of life was transformed forever. This experience has changed us.

For MPC, I believe that change is for the better. The pandemic helped us to slow down and think more about the intersectionality of our work and the long-term impact that we want to have. Equitable recovery is a primary step toward Our Equitable Future. Over the last year, we have doubled down on shared values and partnerships that move us to collective action. That has meant  planning with—not for—people, and using our influential platform to amplify  needed shifts in policy and process that address root causes of structural inequities.  

Here are a few tangible ways we are moving forward:

Safe and stable housing and water supply. Safe and stable housing became all-important in the midst of a global pandemic with shelter-in-place orders. MPC  continues to support relief and protections for vulnerable renters and homeowners, and we  recognize a critical part of being safe  is ensuring every home has running water. Our policy team has focused on water as a basic human right and has advocated  for state legislation to replace every lead service line as well as  a moratorium on water shutoffs. All Illinoisans deserve access to safe, clean, affordable drinking water regardless of income, race, geography, or ability to pay, which is why we are intensifying our  advocacy for equitable investment in water infrastructure to make this  a reality.

Meaningful stakeholder engagement. Last fall, we were challenged to reimagine what authentic and responsive stakeholder engagement looks like in the midst of a pandemic. During our community engagement process in Chicago’s Rogers Park neighborhood, we found the answer: offering a wider variety of ways for individuals to connect and share ideas. Soliciting ideas from community members to inform the future development of a major parcel  near the Howard Red Line station  included infomercials, Zoom meetings, virtual design sessions, in-person workshops, and DIY kits that allowed users to channel their inner builder and assemble scenarios using multi-colored foam blocks. This hybrid approach will continue to shape how we evolve our practice of engagement well beyond the pandemic. 

Transparent infrastructure investment. MPC is urging state legislators to adopt performance-based planning as the best practice for evaluating and prioritizing transportation investments in Illinois. Extensive data and compelling stories of commuter experiences have informed  a new bill that, if passed, will add transparency, sustainability  and equity-based metrics to determine how and where transportation projects get funded. This will  promote access to jobs, improve safety, aid the environment, increase public health, advance equity, and offer multimodal choices—but only if we establish criteria that measure each project against these objectives that matter to people’s lives.  

Accessible riverfront assets. We recently joined the South Branch Park Advisory Council in amplifying the community’s desire to have a pedestrian bridge over Bubbly Creek to benefit resident of Bridgeport. The bridge would provide greater access to the nearby CTA Orange Line and Ashland bus as well as easier connections to parks and local business. As MPC and our partners help educate  local and state public officials, our goal  is not only to execute on needed infrastructure investments, but also to institutionalize a practice of  public agencies  listening to local input,  connecting the dots to realize a broader vision for our entire system of rivers, including  an interconnected riverfront trail.

Inclusive citywide planning. MPC hosted hours of workshops in partnership with the City of Chicago, engaging local stakeholders from businesses, nonprofits, and community groups to learn from other U.S. cities and explore approaches for a citywide  planning process. The result was the creation of a shared vision and recommendations for an inclusive planning process that will support  neighborhood vibrancy while addressing long-standing social and economic inequities. Our continued involvement in We Will Chicago is to steward these recommendations to implementation, and to help the city build the infrastructure for equitable public participation in critical aspects of public policy.

At MPC, we believe proactive planning in partnership with residents and stakeholders is foundational to ensuring equitable outcomes. Now more than ever, we are centered by our mission to shape a better, more equitable future for everyone. As we work towards an economic recovery that is truly just for BIPOC communities, we keep these values at the forefront of our work.  

Kendra Freeman was recently promoted as Vice President of the Metropolitan Planning Council, where she guides the organization’s cross-functional work and centers equity in all policies. After serving as executive director of Holsten Human Capital Development, Kendra joined MPC five years ago to lead MPC’s equitable transit-oriented development program and was a contributor in shaping the Cost of Segregation study and the Roadmap to Our Equitable Future recommendations. Kendra is one of 16 prestigious Fulcrum Fellows through the Center for Community Investment and serves as the Co-Chair of the Elevated Chicago Steering Committee. She has sharpened her approach to centering racial equity in policy through her experience as a  fellow with Chicago United for Equity in 2019 and as a 2017 Chicago Urban League IMPACT Fellow. When she’s not adding momentum to housing policy, equitable transit-oriented development, and inclusive community engagement, you might find Kendra volunteering as a tax preparer, supporting Storycatchers Theatre through her service on the board, or enjoying a long walk with her husband Cedric and dog Lennox.

*The mural in the background of the photo is by local artist Antonio Beniquez. Antonio Beniquez | Email:


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For more than 85 years, the Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) has partnered with communities, businesses, and governments to unleash the greatness of the Chicago region. We believe that every neighborhood has promise, every community should be heard, and every person can thrive. To tackle the toughest urban planning and development challenges, we create collaborations that change perceptions, conversations—and the status quo. Read more about our work »

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