Introducing 4 Themes That Shape "The Citizens Guide"


Theme 1:  How "Livability" Can Lead To "Sustainability"

While a multitude of community organizations are creating more livable places, “livability” is likely to serve as a transitional goal. For example, “livability” headlines the discussions of communities in The 2040 Plan. And this Plan largely serves as a consensus document of how the region can start solving recurring problems of congestion and providing basic services more cost-effectively.

The 2040 Plan also makes a general argument for a long-term sustainable prosperity. This is good. But, we also will need strategies that make existing programs more efficient so there is money to invest in more sustainable solutions. This "Guide" suggests how to convince taxpayers that government can facilitate better services that cost less; which, in speculating the best we can, is what citizens seem to want.


CCC believes livability is a prerequisite to the more advanced environmental, economic and fiscal balance offered by “sustainability.” We also believe this more comprehensive concept helps us compete bettrer in the emerging economy.

To make the distinction more practical, look upon our struggles with recurring budget cuts and declining property values as the result of a “livability” strategy that has met its limits. For realistically, these struggles are on-going. So in this context, "livability" is good but only helps in the transition to more economical patterns for living.

To meet the demands of a more competitive 21st Century economy, communities will need to collaborate with neighbors and find lower cost solutions within their sub-region. But if they don’t, our problems will be more expensive and create a negative spiral that reduces property values. In the most simplified terms: “livability” allows survival; but “sustainability” creates the balance required for us to get to the next level of growth.


Theme 2: How Sustainable Services Gain Wider Acceptance

In proposing a transition to more comprehensive policies, “The Citizen’s Guide” follows this diagram’s 3-step logic of how ideas for sustainability get developed into programs that eventually lead to growth.


In the above process, ideas are first tested in one community by what we call “change entrepreneurs,” both Idea People and ones who start businesses that promote the change in the commercial sector.

In Step 2, the idea entrepreneurs or developers then typically team up with the “Regional Advocates” who add other benefits so the new methods can be more easily adopted.

Step 3 is government; the agencies largely responsible for spreading solutions to every community... or, as we are finding to be more necessary in development, changing local laws so the private sector can spread the solutions.

Here is another graphic overview of how the three groupings of organization(s) leading that evolution tend to work together in the final stages of an idea becoming the norm or even a law. Much like the old joke about how sausage and legislation is made, you may not want to watch too closely how this process plays out for Chicagoland’s 280+ municipalities.


Theme 3: Ultimately, New Laws Will Yield A Sustainable Prosperity

All the players -- entrepreneurs, synthesizers and agencies -- will have to re-make laws before the benefits of change recur and expand. Here, we face a logical necessity: we cannot have sustainable prosperity unless we have new laws. Or viewed through the wise adage of "The definition of insanity is expecting things to change by doing them the same way."  Choose your reasoning, one of the advantages of democracy is that we cannot have government for too long by being either illogical or insane. Whether the goal is the permitting of more compact communities or consolidating overlapping services, laws must be changed and should also be made more flexibly to allow future local efficiencies. But with a nod to the real world, let us recall the old joke about watching laws and sausages being made.


Caught in this grinder and funnel process for too long by antiquated state law, our region’s challenge has come home to roost.

The importance of sustainability is it serves as the foundation of our strategy so that when good ideas go through this process, what comes out actually can position the region well enough to compete.

Theme 4: How Integrating Sustainable Components Can Lead To Multiple Benefits And Greater Acceptance

A key problem in today's impasse over chronic budget crises is taxpayers want government to do more with less. As impossible as that may seem to some, it seems more possible if you have a strategy that does more with less. That strategy is called Sustainability. It has four components: households, government, the environment and businesses. When these components are integrated properly by compact communities, it creates a synergy of what we can view as Sustainable Systems. They multiply their benefits. This schematic suggests a very basic way to think about how this synergy gives taxpayers greater value for their current dollars.

compact communities


How compactness drives this synergy is, frankly, still somewhat theoretical; but these extrapolations are based on real-world results of intentionally designed compact communities. So to stimulate your thoughts about how to apply sustainable practices to make communities more compact and economical with balanced budgets, we offer this similar graphic in which the synergies are more detailed.

compact communities


Why Themes Matter

In history's sweeping Big Picture, we can hope Chicagoland gets one of those rare second acts that a few leading  cities earn.  However if Chicago can replace its stature as the leading manufacturing center of the 20th Century and evolve into a national center for the “sustainable economy,” then we will have earned our second act. But, hope will not win that prize. Today, we are only in the early stages of achieving this goal... and we have lots more competition, globally also, than we did in our boomtown days a century ago.

In our 21st Century quest, a key tactic will be convincing citizens and taxpayers to make the sacrifices necessary so we have the money to invest in delivering improved services. It requires transcending the 20th Century debate between "more government" or "less government" and, instead, finding ways for "better government;" which includes finding new ways of delivering services sustainably.

Beginning with many experiments of delivering services and moving on to the many mini-campaigns required to convince the public to change their behavior and to invest in the future, these Four Themes -- and others devised as necessary-- will play their role.

And if a summary sentence of these 4 Themes helps, try this: For Livable Communities to become Sustainable, we will need new laws if regional systems are to produce Sustainable Prosperity. 

Experimenting to find the sustainable dynamic is often a messy work-in-progress.  So if you can craft a better Summary than that, email it to us at