Mandy Burrell Booth is communications senior at the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, which leads the development of northeastern Illinois’ comprehensive regional plan. She also chairs the communications working group for the Calumet Collaborative. She grew up in Hammond and Munster, Ind., and currently lives in Beverly on the southwest side of Chicago.
What do you love about this region? Honesty is the first word that comes to mind for me when I think about the Calumet region. The people who live here aren’t afraid to be real. Past and present challenges are confronted with eyes and ears wide open, and sometimes a healthy dose of skepticism. Yet folks in this region never abdicate their hopes and dreams for a great life for themselves and their families. On the contrary, they show up at community meetings and write letters and speak their desires until they see change.
I think that same honesty is reflected in the region’s landscape. The rise of industry and cities created compartments: Business happens here, nature happens over there. But here in the Calumet region, where Lake Michigan meets our national railroad and highway systems, industry and nature were and remain today interspersed. That a panorama can include both a blast furnace and a sand dune is an honest reflection of this region’s rich assets and heritage.
What is your vision for the future of this region? I know some people prefer to keep good things a secret; crowds can be trying, and changing dynamics require wrapping our brains around what’s new. But I’d like to see more families move to this region, more businesses open in this region and more people visit this region.
The communicator in me feels strongly that it starts with telling a more cohesive story about who we are and what we have to offer. Too often people drive right by Chicago’s southeast lakefront and straight on through northwest Indiana, en route to Michigan’s sandy shores. Why? For starters, they’ve nailed their story. “Pure Michigan” is pure gold.
We have an equally compelling story to tell. Sure, it will be no small feat to capture our essence in a tagline, but in today’s 140-characters-or-less world, it’s imperative. How are we starting to work toward this vision today? We’re exploring and cataloguing our collective story through a number of initiatives—to name a few: the designation of the Pullman National Monument, Bronzeville-Black Metropolis National Heritage Area Commission, Calumet Heritage Partnership and the work of the wayfinding committee of the Calumet Collaborative. Common themes are emerging that point to a region that is equal parts ancient geography and modern industry, a landscape preserved and forged both by Mother Nature and American grit. I think that’s a fascinating jumping off point, and I look forward to helping hone the story even further.