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Announcing The Grove 3547 – A Next-Gen Social Lab in Chicago

Chicago is one of the great American cities.

Sitting on the shores of Lake Michigan, Chicago is the largest metropolis of the Mid-West, the third largest city in the country. It was home to the legendary Daley Machine. It was in Chicago’s Grant Park that Obama gave his victory speech. It’s a city where the blues found a home in exile. It’s home to the White Sox. It’s now home to the beleaguered Mayor Rahm Emanuel. It’s home to the Southside and the Westside and the Northside. It is not New York and it is not LA. It is Chicago.

Unfortunately Chicago is in deep crisis. The crisis has long, dark roots, from being the most segregated city in the country, coupled with decades of corruption, systematic disinvestment, all resulting in a city being torn apart by structural racism.



One person we interviewed in the pre-conditions phase for Grove remarked,

“I don’t think that I’ve ever lived in a city where there is a bigger distance between what people think of the city, what the North-siders think of as Chicago and what a South-sider thinks of as Chicago versus what a West-sider thinks of as Chicago. There is this shared existence and this shared destiny. It’s shocking to me that you’re not paying more attention. It’s not funny that this part of the city is awesome and the city you live in is incredibly impoverished. There is more social dissension in Chicago than LA, New York or any other city in America. That should bother you.”

It’s in this context that we have launched Grove 3547.

The Grove is a new social lab asking the question “How can we work together to support young people in Chicago to develop resilient livelihoods?”.

The Grove is focusing it’s activities in three neighborhoods, from 35th street to 47th street, in an area known as Bronzeville.

Diagram of a 4 month 'Minimum Viable Lab' structure
Minimum Viable Lab – structure of a single 4 month Lab cycle. Courtesy of Roller Strategies.

The Lab is a partnership between The Chicago Community Trust (CCT) and Roller Strategies, to tackle some of the complex challenges that are being faced in Chicago. While there’s also so many bright sparks of hope, just a few of which are outlined in this post from CCT, they do not together constitute a strategy with a hope of shifting Chicago from its current trajectory.

All of this begs the question, how does Grove hope to impact such a vastly complex challenge?

Why is Chicago in crisis?

One way of understanding what is happening in Chicago is through the lens of multiple capitals. As human beings living in complex systems, maintenance of systems that make life liveable requires multiple forms of capital.

Just as individuals need food to sustain ourselves, societies need capital flows to sustain themselves. We’re not just talking about financial capital, but social, human, intellectual, ecological and physical as outlined in Social Labs Revolution. When these capital flows stop, we start digging into our capital stocks – just as a hungry person’s body starts breaking down stores of fat. If after we have consumed all our capital stocks, we have not managed to generate new capital flows, the inevitable happens. Our bodies collapse and our communities collapse.

See How Civilizations Fall: A Theory of Catabolic Collapse for more.

What will success look like?

Grove 3547 is attempting to show, on a modest scale, that the citizens of Chicago are able to generate new capital flows to sustain their communities.

Success means diverse stakeholders, from young people, to residents living between 35th and 47th street, as well diverse professionals from across Chicago, take collective action.

Success means that 6 people sit around a table and build something together.

Success means creating value on the ground, however small, for the young people aged 20-24 struggling to find channels for their spirit and creativity.

Success means creating new physical capital – even if that’s in the form of a pop-up that runs for 2 months, that provides services in Oakland, Douglas and Grand Boulevard.

In the coming weeks and months we will be reporting back on progress from Grove 3547 regularly.

We will also be creating opportunities for all of you to engage in conversation with the Grove 3547 team. If you’re keen to find out more about Social Labs, this is an opportunity not to be missed – so keep an eye out on the blog and your inbox.

Click here to see who the Grove 3547 Team are.


Post by Zaid Hassan, Engagement Lead of Grove 3547 and CEO & Co-Founder of Roller Strategies.



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