Making Chicago Safe. The NEW Chicago Way. In Chicago’s Media.

Chicago Civic Media
5 min readAug 8, 2019


1/3 Lori + 1/3 Chicagoans + 1/3 Chicago’s Media = 1 Safe Chicago

by Steve Sewall 12/21/2019

“I want Chicago to be the safest big city in the United States.”

That’s Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s goal for Chicago.

Chicagoans yearn for safety. But after decades of attempts to merely reduce violence, how can Chicago make itself safe?

At times like these — pivotal ones — it helps to recall the vision of Daniel Burnham, Chicago’s foundational city planner and big thinker:

“Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir [everyone’s] blood.”

If Burnham could see Chicago today, he’d surely be the first to say that Chicago’s past plans to reduce violence — to curb, control, prevent or crack down on it — have been anything but big.

Surveying a modern world newly transformed by digital media, he’d urge Chicago to do the obvious: use the magic of modern communications technologies to inform and empower all Chicagoans to make their city safe.

And that’s exactly how Chicago is poised to use them in 2020.

The new Chicago way.

As this 20-second video explains:

It all began in 2019. With three game-changing advances.

  1. Chicagoans set the stage for the new Chicago Way.

In 2019, Chicagoans astounded observers. And themselves.

In the city’s mayoral elections, they voted out the old, top-down Chicago Way.

And they voted in a no-nonsense, rookie mayor who promised to work with them, not around them, as past mayors had.

In her inaugural address, she promised to “mobilize the entire city” to address violence.

A huge promise. But Chicagoans demurred. Past mayors made similar lofty promises. Always broken. Never kept.

And violence-weary Chicagoans wondered how — and if— their new mayor could possibly keep her grand promise to mobilize everyone.

The answer: Chicago’s media — especially TV — are Chicago’s mobilizers.

In 2013, for instance, media drew two million Chicagolanders to Grant Park to celebrate the Chicago Blackhawks’ Stanley Cup championship.

Mayor Lightfoot got it. In part. In August, she got three TV stations to televise her State of the City address live and direct to all Chicagoans.

It was historic. No Chicago mayor had ever connected directly with Chicagoans on TV outside of campaign season.

The stage was set.

2. Chicagoans saw the feasibility of the new Chicago Way.

In addressing violence, Mayor Lightfoot has so far been connecting with Chicagoans in neighborhood town meetings held citywide.

She may learn a lot from them, but they’re not televised. Most Chicagoans can’t see them. Most know little or nothing about her plans to make Chicago safe.

Chicago isn’t mobilized yet. Far from it.

Consider this: it is not possible for Chicago’s media to profitably mobilize every Chicagoan whose life and finances (e.g. sky-high property taxes) have been impacted by violence.

Because that’s every single man, woman and child in Chicago: 2.7 million violence-impacted, safety-minded citizens. (Add to this the 10 million safety-minded suburban Chicagolanders whose communities are also impacted by drug-dealing Chicago gangs.)

This large audience of 12.7 million citizen/consumers is the holy grail for socially responsible major advertisers, among others. It’s the largest of all possible large markets: the Market of the Whole of all members of the Chicagoland community.

This market gives Chicago’s TV stations huge civic/dollar incentives to do something stupendously useful: televise commercially-sponsored, civic-purposed programming dedicated to making Chicago safer than New York.

Programming costs would be substantially underwritten by socially responsible corporations that see the logic of Bill Gates’ conviction, expressed in this 7-minute “Egoistic Altrusim” video, that helping others is now a powerful way to help themselves.

The Market of the Whole paves the way for Chicago to solve violence, once and for all.

Today, TV newscasts report (endlessly and depressingly) on Chicago’s (patently failed) efforts to merely reduce violence.

Tomorrow, Chicago TV begins, first, televising Mayor Lightfoot’s neighborhood town meetings citywide, perhaps initially on Chicago Access Television (CAN-TV)

Then, network TV stations launch an ongoing violence-solution dialogue among Chicagoans of all ages and backgrounds and between Chicagoans and City Hall.

This dialogue taps deep into Chicago’s most powerful (yet never previously deployed) anti-violence resource: the people of Chicago. It taps into their experience. Their intelligence. Their talents. Their best energies.

How? Here’s one way. Fasten your seatbelts. It’s called ChicagoWRKS.

It’s a game. A televised game. Daniel Burnham would understand. He see that televised games — like the seasons and championship drives of Chicago’s beloved sports teams — that have the magic to stir Chicago’s blood. Even more so when the game’s outcomes are driven by viewer votes, as on voter-driven reality TV shows.

ChicagoWRKS deploys this magic. It makes season-long, championship contests of Chicago’s ongoing drive to make itself safe. The game is voter-driven to mirror the great voter-driven game of democracy.

It’s thrilling. Inventive. Trusted. And above all, productive.

It tweaks the popular format of voter-driven reality TV to pit not singers or dancers or survivors but small, talented teams of Chicago problem solvers of all ages and backgrounds — police, at-risk youth, parents, activists, social workers, policy makers, business people, teachers, politicians, gang members, you name it — competing and cooperating with each other to develop violence solutions, large and small, that earn the support of Chicagoans and City Hall alike.

The game is trusted and trustworthy. Why? Because its rules mirror the trusted rules, officiating, instant replay and expert commentary of pro sports telecasts.

It energizes Chicago to do the seemingly impossible, brings out the best in us. Its rules and procedures get Chicagoans (City Hall included) listening to and learning from each other.

It puts Chicago in touch with itself. Makes Chicago’s drive for safety the talk of the town — and a turning point in Chicago history.

With ChicagoWRKS and/or other shows, the New Chicago Way is entirely feasible.

3. Chicagoans felt the citizenship power of the new Chicago Way.

This power runs wide and deep. It fuels Chicago’s pride in its sports teams. It makes Chicago a world class city. It got Mayor Lightfoot elected.

It also inspired Daniel Burnham to create the spectacular 18.5-mile public lakefront that Chicagoans cherish and visitors worldwide marvel at today.

In his Plan of Chicago, Burnham spelled this power out in 16 words:

“And after all has been said, good citizenship is the prime object of good city planning.”

Citizenship. Pride in a city that gives much and to which much is given back. That’s the power.

Without it, Chicago gets 16 Shots. Endless fear, strife, grief. And scandals. Broken legal, health, housing, school systems. Citywide mistrust. Dysfunctional government.

With it— with media-based citizenship — the I Will City gets to make itself safe as a We Will City.

Gets to celebrate its safety. The new Chicago Way.

With a digital-age civic infrastructure that does what Daniel Burnham’s industrial-age physical infrastructure has always done: help make Sweet Home Chicago a great place to visit, work, play and raise a family in.

— — — — —

This piece, with hyperlinks, is at I’m at CCM’s four-part Medium post makes a fuller case for ChicagoWRKS. Our ChicagoWRKS Information Page goes even further.

Steve Sewall, Ph.D., is a Chicago educator and Director of Chicago Civic Media.



Chicago Civic Media

Making citizens and governments responsive and accountable to each other at all levels of government with impartial, problem-solving political discourse.