Archive: Communicative City Award

Archive: Communicative City Award


The City of Chicago has been named as the recipient of the first Urban Communication Foundation Communicative City Award. The award recognizes a city whose policies facilitate interaction among its citizens through public and private initiatives that enhance the quality of life. A panel of international scholars advanced the recommendation for the Communicative Cities Award and the selection of Chicago as their first choice

Gary Gumpert, President of the Urban Communication Foundation, said that Chicago is an outstanding selection based on the decisions that the city has made for its residents and visitors alike. In an ideal “Communicative City,” the infrastructure maximizes interaction and engagement and the climate for communication is characterized by civility, diversity and freedom.  Chicago more than meets these criteria.

Media Guru Marshall McLuhan, known for his aphorism that “the medium is the message”, emphasized how media and communication channels influence social organization and development.

“Chicago is the message,’” said Gumpert (President of the Urban Communication Foundation) said, noting that “Chicago’s tradition and image as the city of architectural wonders continues to evolve and the imaginative layout of the downtown and lakeside amenities sends and invites it citizens to engage and participate in public life.”

Gene Burd, a professor of journalism as the University of Texas, Austin, the foundation’s benefactor and an early pioneer in recognizing the importance of urban communication is particularly pleased with the choice of Chicago for the Foundation’s first Communicative City award.  Burd, active at Hull House in Chicago as a young man, noted that Chicago’s policies recognize the importance of civic involvement in decision making and attending to the quality of life of all its citizens.

The award recognizes several key components of urban life.

First, a Communicative City provides sites and opportunities for social interaction, places to be with others, to be alone; places that are walkable; places to communicate culture and heritage, spaces to play, places with numerous nodes of activity, accessible public spaces, places that welcome outsiders and visitors.  Millennium Park is a wonderful example of rejuvenated public space. “Clearly Chicago’s decisions about its lakefront is a prime example of recognizing its social identity and function,” said Gumpert.  “Chicago has served as a model for how to engage people through its treatment of such a valuable resource.”

There have been many initiatives in recent years in the creation and nurturing of public space that allows and encourages for public engagement.  For example, the Pop-Up Art Project has given artists access to dozens of empty storefronts to show their work. While providing venues for artistic expression, they also create an active street life and help to make what might be “dead zones” vital.

Second, a Communicative City has a strong “urban communication infrastructure.”  This ideas encompassed a host of enduring features that support civic engagement, including both physical and non-physical aspects– access to local media, access to communication technologies across the city, affordable network connection availability, policies protecting press freedom and free speech, multiple public spaces that are pedestrian friendly, sites for public art and culture, and opportunities for public interaction through organizations, events and festivals.

“Chicago’s communication infrastructure is a capital investment for its citizens,” said Gumpert.  “A host of public decisions made across time by both private citizens, public officials and powerful economic interests produce this final product, so there are a lot of actors who could be recognized for this achievement. Hence we choose to recognize the city as whole”

“We can also point to support for walkable neighborhoods like historic Old Town or the newly redeveloped West Loop and new initiatives in creating public art along a revitalized St. ate Street. The sponsorship of dozens of events that bring Chicagoans and visitors together such as a Taste of Chicago and Lollapalooza are also important.” said Gumpert.  The re-routing of Lake Shore Drive and the creation of the Museum Campus as a pedestrian friendly space also is a notable example. In addition, there is a major infrastructure initiative that change how the city is rebuilt, with smaller scale development projects such as The Bloomingdale Trail, a plan to turn an abandoned railroad right of way into an urban park.

Chicago also has the full complement of established mass media to serve its residents, with two major daily newspapers, television network affiliates, independent broadcasters, and an active pubic life on the Internet. It also has number of alternative newspapers, local cable broadcasts, and an active independent film community

Third, a Communicative City encourages participation in planning and policymaking providing opportunities for collaboration and public participation of all. The recently announced Chicago Cultural Plan, which asked citizens to help make decisions about public spaces, is a good example of collaborative and progressive planning, said Gumpert.  This city commissioned initiative, the first cultural plan in 25 years, has involved extensive collaboration among city agencies, non-profit facilities, the city’s cultural institutions and the general public.

The city has also been in the forefront of utilizing to new technology to engage the public.  A quick review of the city’s website provides good examples of how a municipal website can serve its residents. In 1999, Chicago became the first U.S. city to create a comprehensive 311 system giving the public immediate and direct action to many agencies and services.  All city agencies have been encouraged to look into technology as a means of connecting with the public.  The current mayor has named a city Chief Technology Officer to oversee all innovation and technology programs.

“We expect that Chicago will continue to build on its achievements and strive to maintain a strong, open communication system when residents, public officials and influential economic interests decide what to build, what to tear down, what to support, and how to create a livable city with a high quality of life,” said Gumpert.


Benet Haller (left), ‎Director of Urban Design and Planning for The City of Chicago accepts the 2012 Communicative Cities Award from Urban Communication Foundation President Gary Gumpert.