His name doesn't ring a bell. But ask him about any issue affecting the city within the last four decades, and you'll find he often has a personal connection to it.
A friend of his stepson, I just happen to be sitting in the kitchen of his Ravenswood home one Saturday morning. Out of the blue, I ask him what he thinks about South Shore Bank, the nation's first community development bank.
"Well," he says, "we started working on launching the South Shore Bank in 1971. We spent a year designing it, a year raising capital..."
Wait, wait, wait. You're telling me you helped start South Shore Bank?
How come I've never heard of you?
He shrugs. "When we went in to meet with the Tribune editorial board and take a picture, it was Milton Davis, Ron Grzywinski, and me. I thought it wouldn't be good to have a picture in the paper of two white guys and one black guy buying a bank in a predominantly black neighborhood, so I stepped aside." Sure enough, the October 21, 1973, story names him as a founder, but the accompanying photo shows only Grzywinski and Davis.
It's the story of his life: He helps start innovative businesses, nonprofits, and think tanks. Then he leaves to do something else.
A dreamer with an eye to public policy, he's practiced a variety of professions: urban planner, entrepreneur, professor, theologian, community organizer, political strategist, conflict mediator, environmentalist. He's worked with Martin Luther King Jr. and Saul Alinsky, and helped to organize important civic groups, including the Center for Neighborhood Technology, the Woodstock Institute, and the Neighborhood Capital Budget Group. He's authored dozens of papers on finance, law, housing, religion, public transit, crime, schools, and philanthropy. George McGovern says he's "a truly great man." Studs Terkel calls him "one of our nation's living treasures."
His name is Stanley J. Hallett, and he's been active in Chicago for more than 35 years. Yet aside from providing a quote or two in an occasional newspaper article, he's kept himself out of the press. "We always work with other people, so it would feel like a betrayal to say, 'I did it,'" explains his wife, Anne, director of the Cross-City Campaign for Urban School Reform. "It was always a group effort." Anne Hallett has started three nonprofits devoted to school reform, two of them in Seattle, her previous home. After leaving her job as director of the Wieboldt Foundation, she became a major catalyst for changes in the Chicago Public Schools. She's probably better known here than he is.
Most days Anne gets up early and goes to work. Stan gets up and putters around the house. Anne always seems to be doing two things at once. Stan, at 67, is a big, gentle guy with drooping features and a paunch--he has the air of not doing much.
Stan Hallett says he was a country boy. His father was a Methodist minister, and the family moved from town to town in Iowa and South Dakota, eventually settling in Rapid City. At age 14, Stan began preaching to a congregation in Wall, South Dakota, when the famous Wall Drug was still "just a tiny drugstore." He left high school after his junior year and completed his BA in two and a half years at Dakota Wesleyan. He started graduate school in sociology at Duke when he was 19. In 1951 he headed to Boston University's school of theology, and, after spending a year in Cambridge, England, he was ordained a Methodist minister in 1955. He had a knack for meeting historically significant people before they became famous.
"At Wesleyan, I met a political science graduate student who had a vision of reviving the Democratic Party in South Dakota. His name was George McGovern. South Dakota was solidly Republican at the time. It was traditionally conservative, whereas Nebraska and North Dakota were traditionally liberal. He became secretary of the Democratic Party. He ran a real grassroots campaign for Congress against Joe Foss, who had been governor and was a war hero--and he won. If I were going to target political money for the future of the country, I'd put it into the Plains states--Idaho, Montana, the Dakotas--because that's where the swing vote is and where your money will have the greatest impact."
You went to school with Martin Luther King Jr., too.
"Yes. Martin and I were at Boston University We had a seminar on Hegel. He was obviously a very good student. Someone ought to look at the role of Boston University in organizing the civil rights movement. A lot of people went there, many black leaders who had a strategic sense of social change--King, Jim Lawson, the head of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. These people had courses on theories of social change; they studied struggles for social justice from the biblical record and from Western civilization. Dean Walter Muelder was our major professor. He was a wonderful student of the history of moral ideas and the social teachings of the church. He was a significant mover in starting the World Council of Churches in 1948. He was way before his time on the status of women in the church, and he had a very strong commitment to dealing with questions of race."
How did you become interested in race?
"I had Jim Lawson as a roommate at the Methodist Youth Conference."
When you were in high school?
When was that?
"1945-'46. The Methodist Youth Confer-ence went for one week each year in Clear Lake, Iowa, and Jim and I were roommates for two or three years. Jim was one of these four-star guys: great student, great singer, great athlete, great organizer. And committed to racial justice. He had a big impact on me. Both of us were interested in Gandhi. While I was in college, he was organizing protests in Nashville. He had gone to prison refusing the draft. He went to India to study Gandhi. He got kicked out of Vanderbilt, and Dean Walter Muelder invited him to BU to finish his degree. Later on, there was a big conflict in the [Southern Christian Leadership Conference] because a lot of people wanted him to be head of the SCLC under King, while some thought he was too radical. Jim was in Memphis, helping to organize the sanitation workers. Remember, King had come to Memphis to help
organize the sanitation workers when he was assassinated.
"Jim was my first black friend who I really got to know. When I got to Boston, I was living in a slum, on the edge of Roxbury. And the contrast between life in the slums and in the suburbs was intriguing to me. I did a photo study. What got me interested in urban planning was living in a city through the eyes of someone who came from South Dakota. I was interested in 'How is this thing put together?'
"Most people I know in community organizing come out of pretty deep religious commitments, but they don't talk about them. During the late 1950s I spent four years in Newark as a minister, building an interracial community organization and an interracial church in a white neighborhood that was changing. You develop a special relationship with people as a pastor. You get to know people at a very different level than the sort of normal social contact. And you get angry at the racism they experience. I began to probe myself at levels I didn't even know were there. I discovered that my perceptions of race were like an onion."
When Hallett returned to Boston to pursue a PhD in philosophy, he put his own spin on the subject--he wrote his dissertation on the ethics of urban planning. "I was concerned about the power arrangements in cities and the role of city planners," he says. "I remember drawing diagrams of who controls what and finding out where the planners connected in. Like most professionals, they were fitting into the existing power arrangements without being critical of them.
"Later in life, I gave a speech at an awards banquet put on by the construction industry for Mies van der Rohe. Mies said it was easier for him to build a skyscraper than to write a page and that he'd accept the award as long as he didn't have to give a speech. So I spent an afternoon with him. He said, 'Students today, zay don't care about zee big issues. Zay just vant to know how to make a vindow tight.' I said that in my speech, except without the accent, and then I added, 'And now we are making a great mistake because we won't face the truth that we're all human and we keep separating people by race.' Some of the developers were turning red in the face. Then Mies stood up to accept the award and he gave an eloquent affirmation of what I had said. 'Yes, it is wrong zat vee are building ghettos.'"
In 1962 Hallett moved here to take a job as the director of research and planning for the Church Federation of Greater Chicago. He also taught at the University of Chicago and at an ecumenical school on the near west side called the Urban Training Center for Christian Mission, which taught organizing strategies to civil rights activists before they headed south. "There's a tendency in a movement to go with the flow and respond to problems--we were trying to think ahead," Hallett says. "How do you get people involved? We would do a very simplified work flowchart. That doesn't sound like much. But when you start asking where do you want to be in a year and a half, what are the steps to get there, and what is everyone's role in making that happen, it builds in a discipline that's not externally imposed but that's in the nature of the work, because then everyone can see how the little piece they're doing is crucial to what's going to happen six months from now. The civil rights movement was sweeping the country, energizing and shaping a generation of young people and testing most of the major institutions. The Urban Training Center was pretty much in the middle of that, trying to keep communication open between various groups. A lot was going on at this time. Although prosperous suburbs continued to expand, large numbers of people became aware of the poverty of many urban neighborhoods and rural towns.
"I had another friend from Boston, Ed King, who was a pastor at Tougaloo College in Mississippi. He was one of the most hated men in Mississippi because he was seen as a white turncoat. He was the one who dropped Medgar Evers off the night Evers was killed in front of his home. Ed told me 16 civil rights workers had been killed--this was the summer of '63--and he felt the news wasn't being reported. Occasionally the New York Times would have something, but there was no TV. Northern media were relying on Mississippi outlets to cover the news. Ed complained that the FBI was working with local police and white citizens' councils. I said, 'What can I do?' He said, 'The most important thing is for you to come down here. We have to get outside credible sources in here to get the news out.'
"I went down and spent a week in Mississippi with Ed. When I came back, I reported it to a meeting of the Church Federation of Greater Chicago. I gave probably the best speech of my life. And then we began to organize a delegation of clergy to go there from northern cities with the purpose of keeping down the violence. The clergy would come back to Detroit or Baltimore, and then there would be an article in the local papers from somebody they trusted. One after another the major metropolitan dailies started to report what was going on.
"Nicholas von Hoffman was a reporter for the Chicago Daily News. When we were working on desegregating churches in Mississippi, I would talk to Nick every night. Nick would suggest what to do next because he knew what would make the news. And we'd act it out. He was the only reporter I knew who'd help make the news so he could write about it.
"I got a small grant from the Presbyterian church to send Chuck Remsberg down there. He was a good reporter and detective writer. Chuck came back with a report called 'Behind the Cotton Curtain,' and the Presbyterian church strategy planning committee said, 'We can't publish this because we have 16 churches down there and two colleges and we could be sued and we could lose them.' So we tore half the cover off--the half that had 'Presbyterian' written on it. And we stamped it 'Confidential' and we sent it to the leadership of the National Council of Churches." That organization, Hallett says, became an important source of funding and support, especially during the Freedom Summer campaign.
At this time, Hallett found a mentor at the Church Federation of Greater Chicago. Edgar Chandler, a Congregational minister, was its executive director. "Ed had come from the World Council of Churches doing refugee work after [World War II]. His capacity to cut through bureaucracy and red tape was unparalleled. He was always finding the shortest distance between two points.
"His courage here in the civil rights movement will always stand out. He supported strong community organizing, including Saul Alinsky's efforts, and he and Bill Berry, head of the Urban League, put together the Soldier Field rally for Martin Luther King. One of the first things Ed did upon arriving here was lead a march into Rainbow Beach, which was still a segregated beach, along with Monsignor John Egan and Rabbi Robert Marx; that must have been around 1962. He stood up against the business community and Daley, or at least he stood independent of them. He did it in a way that was diplomatic but firm.
"It's hard to remember that back in those days the church was a loud, articulate voice for justice. Our era now has very few sources of moral authority."
Faced with their declining presence in the community, Hallett says, many churches were unable to think innovatively. Back in the summer of 1963, the National Council of Churches hired Hallett to work with developer Jim Rouse to come up with one possible solution. "Most churches get saddled with the edifice complex," Hallett says. "A church will change size, and you have this beautiful old building with ten people coming to services. I was doing analysis on what it would look like if you had congregations of different churches share the same religious facility near the center of town, with a day care center and meeting rooms. We designed it so that there could be a Jewish service on Sabbath, then the Protestants come in on Sunday--roll out the ark, roll in the altar." They built a prototype, the Wild Lake Interfaith Center in Columbia, Maryland. "The church is still there," Hallett says.
Different situations call for different strategies, but, Hallett says, once action is taken there are always side benefits. He mentions Jim Shiflett, a Presbyterian minister at Saint Paul's United Church of Christ, who decided to foster arts programming through his church. He approached Hallett to learn how to get started. "I said, 'You need to get your own building so you have a base and some continuity.' They bought the building that became the Body Politic Theatre, so they had a base. But they still had to fight the building codes because Daley had such strict regulations on what could become a theater that it was almost impossible. Jim organized such a strong combination of church and community support that the building code was changed. That opened the door to the growth of a rich theater life in Chicago--it's almost unparalleled. The Organic Theater used our church for a long time because they couldn't go anywhere else.
"With the old Daley administration, it was either you're in, you take money and shut up, or you're out and you get nothing or you get punished. Churches that were out got fire inspections. Our church, Holy Covenant on Diversey, provided lodging for the protesters at the '68 Democratic convention, so we had someone going through our trash. In order to deal with police infringements on civil liberties, we formed an organization that monitored police activity. We had what we called a Bible study group where a group of us would gather. I don't recall if we ever studied the Bible, but we always had good discussions of what was going on and what needed to be done.
"The personal price some people paid was very high. Alinsky organized a bitter fight in Rochester against Eastman-Kodak. It divided the community. A Baptist minister hung himself in a church basement. Another got divorced. Another left the church. My sense is that you tend to be OK in the heat of struggle. Afterward, when you see what's been achieved and the ambiguities, that's when some of the inner bills come due."
In 1974 Hallett had a coronary bypass. Then his wife of nearly 25 years, Sarah, filed for divorce. "All divorces are difficult. Mine certainly was. I had married young, at 18, when I was a senior in college. She was a girl from Mitchell, South Dakota, a fine woman. I had a lot of responsibility for the kids. We had four kids, all of whom turned out really well. But when they were little, I was working all day at the Church Federation and teaching at the Urban Training Center at night, and that was a high price to pay being away from my kids. It probably contributed some to the divorce.
"I was also getting angina and having chest pains. The doctor said, 'Let me put it to you this way: you've got one foot in the grave and the other foot on a cake of soap.' I had been trying to save the world and carrying a lot of weight. Also, I used to think it was important to achieve a position of power and prestige and status. You discover once you've got a modicum of status and power how empty it is. I felt enormously relieved to know I had limits. I was just glad to be alive. You're still trying to achieve something, but your concerns go from status and glory to the work itself. It was a big shift in my psyche.
"By the 1970s, the civil rights movement was losing focus. It was expanding into the rights of women and broader questions of equal opportunity and the environmental movement. In the 60s, we had questions that had to be dealt with on a national level. A lot of my friends sort of rethought that. Change in this society really had to come from the bottom up, locally. I think that realization came after seeing our leaders killed. The tragedy of assassinations--Medgar Evers, John Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., and Robert Kennedy--sobered the idealism in many who thought that change would come easily. When people watched the unraveling of the Nixon years, they felt a general loss of confidence in the federal government. You start to see national leadership is a pretty fragile base on which to build. In order to be effective, a Kennedy or McGovern has to have a lot of people working in the basement. Many of those engaged in the struggles of the 60s were reexamining how to deal with urban poverty, and they were inventing new institutional forms, such as community development corporations, development banking, and legal supports for these efforts."
In 1973 Hallett got a job at Northwestern University's Center for Urban Affairs and Policy Research, one of 16 research centers started by the Ford Foundation in the wake of the '68 riots. "Of the 16 centers, Northwestern is the only one left," Hallett says. "We originally got funding for 8 positions, but the first director, Ray Mac, split those 8 spots into 16 part-time positions, so you could have people who wanted to work in the field the other half of the time. John Dewey said the nature of practical moral inquiry means that you have to act--it makes inquiry much more serious because you're gonna put something at risk. Your mind reaches plateaus until it's nurtured by more experience."
While many of his colleagues focused on politics, Hallett began to think about economics, specifically banking and credit. "The critical question was how to rebuild communities. I had done a study on the internal economies of neighborhoods, so Al Raby introduced me to Ron Gryzwinski, Milton Davis, and Mary Houghton, who had all worked on a successful minority-business lending program at Hyde Park Bank. The design for the South Shore Bank was pretty much already in Ron Gryzwinski's head."
Banks were moving out of the west and south sides, leaving large black areas without lenders; as credit dried up businesses closed down and the bottom fell out of the housing market. Convinced that he could make loans in such a neighborhood and still turn a profit, Gryzwinski set his sights on acquiring the troubled South Shore National Bank, which had lost $35 million in deposits in four years as white families--and their savings--left the neighborhood. His first challenge, however, would be raising the necessary funds. "Ron thought that because so many corporations were talking about 'the urban agenda' we could raise money from the corporate community locally," Hallett says. "He had some pretty good contacts. We went to meet with the most interesting prospects to try to raise capital, and it didn't work. So I started working on getting money from churches."
The United Church of Christ's Homeland Ministries gave the group $160,000 and "became our first institutional investor, which paved the way for foundations and some individual donors to come on board. Then once we got the bank started we needed development deposits. And we got most of those from nuns in various orders. That's where the biggest chunk of our development deposits came from for the first ten years--they were critical to keeping the bank afloat."
Hallett was always adamant in his belief that "development banking is not community organizing"--the bank had to be "a necessary bastard," shrewd in business matters and able to say no, in order to survive. But while South Shore Bank succeeded by doing business in a depressed community, others were reluctant to follow suit.
"At the Center for Urban Affairs at Northwestern, we'd been working on the importance of banking in neighborhoods. John McKnight, the associate director, said we need to get banks to report where they're making their loans. Old man Daley liked the study, and Chicago passed the first redlining disclosure law in the country. After the disclosure law was passed, there was a conference put on by Al Raby, bless his memory. Al was head of the Coordinating Council of Community Organizations, which represented about 50 groups. They're the ones who invited King here. Raby had this conference and invited the state regulators, people in charge of the S and Ls, the banks, the credit unions. I developed a slide presentation showing how the flows of money worked in neighborhoods and regions.
"At one time CCCO had threatened to march into Cicero with King, and that would have inevitably been violent. But the political motivation behind it was that the march would split black votes and the white ethnic vote--and that had been Daley's base. Some of us thought that was the wrong way to go. Both the white ethnics and the blacks were being jerked around by the economic elite.
"The other tactical thing I argued about with King was that if you expand the war on poverty, you put more money into the hands of Daley to buy off the independent black political movement. You don't want to end up cutting a deal that strengthens your opposition. This is basic Alinsky--you want to cut a deal that leaves you with a stronger rather than a weaker organization. And Alinsky was right. He was very critical of the civil rights movement. He said it didn't build strong organizations and that most agreements aren't any good unless there's a continuing power base to enforce them. Alinsky was a very good analyst of power. He was good at following the money and people's self-interest wherever it went."
What was Alinsky like?
"Saul was very, very personable but tended to be quite dogmatic. So I used to love to argue with him. I was one of the few people he would take it from. One of the areas I disagreed with him on was that each of his neighborhood organizations tended to be isolated--their only connection was through him. You only had the Woodlawn Organization or the Northwest Community Organization, but you never build a Chicago organization. I understand why he was trying to do it. You want to build from the bottom up, with people focused on their own immediate neighborhood, which is what they really know about. But meanwhile, what's going on at a regional level in the suburbs--building all these automobile suburbs that are off the transit lines, and highways and tollways that bring suburban commuters into city jobs but don't bring most city workers out to suburban jobs--all these changes coming down the pike are going to dramatically affect race and the economic life of your neighborhoods.
"One of our last really good arguments was over the way metro and suburban issues tended to be wedded to neighborhood issues. I said to him, 'Saul, there are issues going on at the metro level and in the suburbs that will wipe out everything you're doing in the neighborhoods. When are your neighborhood organizations ever going to get to that?' About a year later, he got involved with the Chicago Area Project to fight the highways. And to some extent, it's what Ed Chambers, the current director of the Industrial Areas Foundation, is doing 30 years later with United Power for Action and Justice--building a metropolitan coalition to fight issues at the regional level.
"In the 70s, a lot of people in the civil rights movement were looking at housing discrimination. I argued that you had to look behind housing discrimination to the forces that control housing discrimination. You have to look at private credit flows, redlining banks, lending, the behavior of financial institutions, insurance companies, credit unions. There's a layer of building that needs to go on in order to create space for other people to do important and interesting things. You go into a house and you see beautiful lights. Someone did the wiring!
"Richard Taub, at the University of Chicago, was able to get at least three times as much money to study the South Shore Bank as we did to design it--which is a commentary on the foundations rather than on Taub. Most sociological research is irrelevant--what I call necessitarian. You take a set of characteristics like poverty, line them up against census tract data for age, race, sex. It makes the variables look like they're necessary rather than something you can change. It cuts off the nerve of action.
"There's another problem that academia faces--it tends to focus on research of past data rather than on the invention or design of organizations and programs." In contrast, Hallett points to faculty at the Center for Urban Affairs, who were working in partnership with community-based organizations that were applying their hypotheses on the ground.
"We did a study at a west side hospital, Bethany in Garfield Park. We wanted to learn why people were admitted to the hospital, and we discovered that most of the causes were nonmedical--things like assaults, traffic accidents, fires. One of the biggest causes for people being treated was dog bites from stray dogs. So the community organization paid people to round up the stray dogs. In Evanston, the biggest cause of emergency room visits was burns from people spilling hot coffee on themselves and hot water. And then you have 'falls,' which of course is domestic abuse. Building more hospitals, the institutional solution, won't solve any of these problems.
"So you begin to question: 'If it isn't the institution, what is it that makes a difference in a community?' And then you start to look at such questions as What is the community fabric like? What are the associations and networks? Social service professionals and the media continued to define inner-city neighborhoods in terms of their needs rather than their capacities, but a countervailing force was starting to emerge in local community development organizations.
"My colleagues John McKnight and John Kretzmann argue that the social service industry defines people in terms of their problems, when what's required for community building is to define people in terms of their capacities. That means taking individual capacity inventories instead of the typical social work 'needs assessment.' How do you shift from defining welfare mothers from their deficiencies to their capacities? You can look at the same person. Here's a daughter with a teenage pregnancy, a kid with a spinal problem. That's marketing for the welfare industry. Or you can see a woman who has organized her block, a kid who's a computer genius--then you flip the whole definition. You can take any group you want and look at their deficiencies, including the faculty at the Center for Urban Affairs. You have a divorced man, getting old, overweight, you can say, 'Gosh, what a basket case!' You can look at almost any person or group that way.
"Churches on the west side like Bethel New Life went through their congregations and had everybody list their capacities. What are the resources we control? What are the resources from outside we could get control of? Here's a hospital. It manages real estate. Why don't we enlist them? Here are police. Why don't we get them acquainted with kids? Then you begin to come up with a whole range of things like community policing, better diet and exercise, community economic development--as opposed to welfare and AFDC. For young black men, it means jobs instead of incarceration.
"There's a serious problem with the way young black men are criminalized. When they get arrested, the public defender will say: 'How long have you been in jail? Look, if you plead guilty, you can get out.' The problem is if you plead guilty and it's a felony, you can't get a job as a cabdriver, you can't get into the military. It dogs you the rest of your life. What if a community group was willing to take one kid a year, or two kids a year, and bring them back into community life instead of pushing them out? There have been some examples of this, but you need to break the boundaries and think innovatively."
Hallett came to the conclusion that, in order to bring about positive change, our systems for getting things done need to be decentralized and replaced with smaller, more manageable, humanistic methods. "For years we trusted technology to pull us along," he says. "Then we found out someone had been laying the tracks." Among those laying the tracks were bureaucrats and businessmen, "who have made us dependent on their products." He was shocked that valuable resources were being committed to expensive and untested "megaprojects," such as the Deep Tunnel, the Metropolitan Sanitary District's flood and pollution control project. "Big systems are popular because people believe in economies of scale--bigger is better. Unfortunately, they dominate both the financing and the imagination, so small-scale technology--the backyard gardens, solar energy, conservation efforts--these things that reduce the cost and create the opportunity for productive work, they get lost. And the megaprojects load additional costs onto neighborhoods through taxes, while cutting down on the capacities of the neighborhood."
In 1978, Hallett led a coalition of civic groups to fight the Deep Tunnel. "The tunnel was a crazy idea. A region only has so much money to invest in its infrastructure. And when you're talking about a project that's gonna cost three to four billion dollars, a small fraction of that money could've put gardens in every vacant lot in the city.
"You start out with the assumption that if a project is that big it must be really well thought through. The more you look, the more you begin to come to the conclusion that any project that big is almost certainly not thought through. You get this great mobilization of business, union, and political forces to do things that make no sense.
"We thought we could stop it after the first phase, but anything that big, that expensive, that profitable has a life of its own. You have to keep stomping on its head. And incidentally, the commissioners who were in charge of this are gone. They float bonds. The taxpayer doesn't get hit with the extra cost until the public officials who did it are gone. Behind the public officials were the economic interests, the big contractors who knew how to play the game.
"There was an alternative proposal from one engineer, Donald Hey. He looked at the role of wetlands and the way they bring back natural plants and the way that the plants clean up the water. And he said: 'If we put these wetland ponds like beads on a string along the river, they'll clean up the river and have all these other benefits.' But those don't help the rich, well-connected pipe-fitting interests who were pushing for this tunnel.
"My students came up with another imaginative proposal. The big question in drainage is how long does it take for the water to get into the sewer system, because the faster the water comes the bigger the drainage pipes you need to keep the sewer from overflowing. But if you can slow down the process, you may only need a quarter-size tube. My students had a plan for people to disconnect their downspouts from the sewer system so rainwater would run into lawns rather than the sewer. It created jobs, it was good for the environment, but there were no big contractors who were going to benefit from it.
"A friend of mine who was the head of research for Monsanto agreed to do an evaluation of Deep Tunnel and its alternatives. I tried to raise the money, but when I went to the Chicago Community Trust they didn't want to do it. They wanted me to hire some U. of C. professors. But the engineers we talked to in Chicago were reluctant to take on the Metropolitan Sanitary District over a project of this scale that pumped so much money into the engineering profession. Many of them had consulting contracts with the Metropolitan Sanitary District. So the local foundations refused to fund us--they weren't going to get involved."
But you've obviously benefited from foundation grants. What has been your experience with philanthropy?
"The big money tends to get put into foundations, where it becomes professionally managed. That has strengths and weaknesses. There's a very strong tendency to go with established groups. Big money tends to go to major universities, hospitals, big arts, and established social service agencies. The amount that goes to small, community-based groups is a relatively small percentage. It's safer to give the money to established institutions because you don't know when community groups are going to get up in arms about something that may challenge the major institutions or their friends. For example, it was very hard to get money to fund a serious examination of the Commonwealth Edison franchise.
"There used to be a guy named Dutch Smith who was the head of the Woods Charitable Fund. Someone would come in and ask him for money. He'd sit back, ask them a bunch of tough questions, puff on his cigar, and say, 'Well, that sounds good to me,' and write them a check. Nowadays, the hoops you have to jump through to get a grant, it just takes so much time and energy away from the actual work.
"To fight a big boondoggle you need funding to develop a technological base to refute claims and to propose superior alternative solutions, and you need to be able to organize the people to fight it on a grassroots level. Environmental groups don't usually have all of that together. This is part of my complaint--not complaint, but assessment--of environmental groups. The groups that wanted to clean the river ended up spearheading the issue for the Metropolitan Sanitary District and the contractors. They gave the cover. It's one thing to say: 'This is the good we're pursuing, we want to clean up the river.' But you really should be asking: 'What's the best way to attain that good, and what's the best way to evaluate alternative strategies and technologies?' It's not something they're equipped to deal with. The Center for Neighborhood Technology is developing that capacity. A lot of environmental groups are good at saying, 'Stop, don't do this.' But the question of what we should be doing instead requires that you really take a look at technological development."
How did the Center for Neighborhood Technology get started?
"We got a small grant at the Center for Urban Affairs to study appropriate technology for city neighborhoods." The idea was to give residents more control over their lives by enabling them to become more self-sustaining. "At first we mainly looked at three areas--food production, solar energy, and conservation. Almost all of the appropriate technology was designed for a Wisconsin farm, not a city neighborhood. We started the Center for Neighborhood Technology in my living room in 1976. It was me, Scott Bernstein, who's the current head, and Dr. John Martin, who did nuclear physics at Argonne and decided nukes were not the way to go. Since then, the center has been an advocate and actor in a lot of neighborhood programs. On energy conservation, for instance, it worked with not-for-profit organizations to cut their energy consumption. Energy conservation is like a permanent endowment. It gets the energy bill down. It's almost better than a grant."
And what was your role after that?
"Helping to raise funds, get the right people, develop strategy. I served on the board. But once you've got something in place and somebody else can do it, it's time to move on and do something nobody else is doing.
"In 1981 I did a study on appropriate technology in older city neighborhoods. Then I did a study on neighborhood participation in capital budget decisions. You'd ask a question like How much money are we spending in Uptown and for what? Nobody could tell you. How much on fire? How much on streets? How much on sanitation? Nobody could tell you. At the Center for Urban Affairs, we created a computer program to show by neighborhood where the money was being spent. Most of the money tended to be spent on maintenance, streets, and sewers. We asked, 'Which stimulates investment in a neighborhood more? Raising a viaduct from 10 feet to 12 feet for trucks to go through, or fixing up storefronts?' A lot of the downtown infrastructure money was being used to facilitate or undergird private real estate development, but not in the neighborhoods. And out of that came the idea for the Neighborhood Capital Budget Group--which is the nation's only community-based infrastructure advocacy organization that I know of."
Hallett tried to get some of these methods accepted by state government when Jim Edgar appointed him to a task force on social service reform. "One of the things we looked at is how much money is being spent in neighborhoods by the state. We set up six pilot areas in which local citizens' associations and agencies each worked out contracts with the state on how money should be spent in their area. In Grand Boulevard, for instance, the total came to 120 to 150 million dollars per year. But that was money spent to maintain people in a condition of dependency, delinquency, danger, and deterioration, rather than restoring a community, its economic base, and supporting grassroots efforts. A lot of money was being spent on behalf of communities in the form of free hotel rooms we call prisons.
"The idea was to localize some of the funds and redirect them toward constructive action. People were being told there was no money to revive the historic 43rd Street jazz district. We found out the state was already spending 120 to 150 million dollars a year just to maintain the neighborhood in a state of decay. The question was Why couldn't there be a way to divert some of that money to reviving 43rd Street? The answer was nobody in the state legislature knew they were spending that much.
"The amazing thing was watching the department heads move in their thinking. For the most part they had the typical social service mindset: how do we do the needs assessment, then create the professional services to meet those needs? They were looking at people in terms of their problems instead of their capacities. Then they started to look at questions like How do we move people into jobs? How do you enlist and mobilize the caring and sustaining activities of local associations like churches? But the key battle remained--does reform mean the better coordination of state bureaucracies or enabling communities to strengthen themselves? I ended up being almost alone. The other people on the task force went along with reform as coordination. They chose standardization over invention and creativity.
"There is no 'best practice.' All you can do is let people open up the possibilities and see for themselves. One of the things we did at our local school council--I'm on the LSC at Ravenswood School--was to give each teacher $200 to spend on CD-ROMs. The excitement that generated--every teacher got this discretionary money to go to the computer store or wherever and suddenly, they owned it, it was theirs!"
For Hallett, hatching new ideas has always come out of a group process.
"In our media-dominated society, we have neglected the art of the forum, where people are actually listening to each other and coming up with novel solutions for how to act. Cicero said that a legislative body should do more than just bargain between different interests--it should be a place where a group of people can invent something that no one of them could do by
"At the Center for Urban Affairs, we came up with the Chicago Innovations Forums, starting in 1987. We'd take an emerging issue and we'd locate the key people who were working on it from different angles and in different parts of the city. Oftentimes they didn't even know each other. We called around the country to groups in other cities who were doing something innovative on a certain topic--not a glory story, but what they tried to do, the problems they encountered, and the successes. Sometimes we had foundation people there, from Joyce, Wieboldt, MacArthur, so that if groups came out of the discussions that needed start-up money, they had access to a planning grant."
Were you the main person behind this?
"No, John McKnight and I cochaired the enterprise. When you're working as part of a group, you don't keep track of what was yours or what was somebody else's. Who the hell cares as long as it gets done? In my experience, you usually get a lot more done if you don't try to take credit. Competition for credit destroys collegiality. There's competition between organizations trying to get publicity, because that's what you need for next year's grant proposal. One reason we could do the innovations forum is because we weren't in competition with anyone. People just relate to you differently when they know they're not going to have to protect their backsides. We were very clear that our role was off the record, out of sight. That's why only the participants know about the Chicago Innovations Forums. It accounts partially for the spirit of collegiality and collaboration you see in Chicago's communities."
So this was never written about in the
"No, I can't think of an article."
What came out of the forums?
"Well, the Neighborhood Capital Budget Group grew out of the first innovations forum; then Jackie Leavy took off with it from there. Some strategic thinking about school reform came out of forums. When school reform groups gathered one session, there were a lot of proposals on the table, and rather than going through each one of them we said, 'Let's set standards by which to evaluate them.' And we came up with five principles by which to judge any proposal. Many of the people in that group worked on the eventual legislation, and they said that discussion was the most useful discussion they'd had."
So what happened to the Chicago Innovations Forums?
"After holding about 50 of them, we stopped."
"A variety of reasons--other work, personal problems, funding constraints. Somebody will pick it up again."
Hallet was appointed to the Metra board by Harold Washington in 1986, and he continued to serve there until 1993. During that period he began to formulate one of his most ambitious projects yet. He wanted to develop an alternative to driving cars in the suburbs.
"The problem with our transit system is that it was designed to get suburban workers into city jobs instead of city workers into suburban jobs," he explains. "Two-thirds of the region's jobs are now in the suburbs. And for most of those jobs, it's too far to walk from Metra stops, so many people in the city are not going to take Metra out there."
In the early 60s, Hallet attended a seminar at Harvard's school of planning and design, where he first heard about an invention called Personal Rapid Transit. He was intrigued by the idea, and over the years he and his brother Tom, an inventor and former computer consultant at Olivetti, developed their own version of a PRT, called Pathfinder. It operates as a network of four- to six-person vehicles that travel on a web of tracks running out from rapid transit stations, connecting people to outlying office parks, shopping malls, and residential areas. Each vehicle can be thought of as a cross between a taxicab and an elevator. "It works like this: You get into a station. You punch a button if it's not there, like an elevator. Then you select your destination, and it finds the shortest path to get you there. I'm convinced it's the missing link in transportation. It's public transit for the suburbs--trains that act like automobiles.
"After the oil shocks of the 70s, the government started putting a lot of money into it. A lot of companies--GE, Westinghouse, GM, and others--had developed programs. Boeing was working on a project in Morgantown, West Virginia, to connect a campus and the downtown. So we thought: 'Fine. That's great. Someone else is doing it.' But one by one the companies pulled out as the federal funding dried up. The cost of computers was too high, and the reliability was too low. Tom and I looked at it again in 1983 when the cost of chips was coming down dramatically. Others had been trying to run it all on one big computer, so they had breakdowns and glitches all the time. We decided to decentralize the controls and use a personal computer in each car. We built a small PRT in my driveway, but we were still running into problems with the turn control. I had some students do a bibliographic search, and we came out with a turn control that was unique--it works on a vehicle suspended beneath the guideway. We put the motor right inside the wheel, there was no transmission, no gears. It is such a fundamental invention, we called it the Pathfinder. It's the only patent with my name on it. We started our company, Pathfinder Systems Inc., in 1985.
"The market is getting hotter. Raytheon, a defense contractor, is trying to build one in Rosemont, which is not the best place to build one. About half of the automated transportation systems now are in airports--they're monorails. The average cost of automated systems is $67 million per mile, so if we can come anything close to $15 million per mile we should really be in business."
Why is yours so much cheaper?
"It's smaller and lighter, and we have the decentralized control system. The problem is, once you get a bigger system where you've got trains weighing several tons, your braking and collision problems multiply so you need huge brakes. Then everything gets bigger and more expensive--it's a spiral. Also, with a monorail, you may be empty most of the time when a train is going against rush hour into the Loop. With Pathfinder, we can do short loops. You don't have to go all the way out to the end of the line.
"It turned out to be a hell of a lot harder than we thought to raise the capital," Hallett says. "There's an inherent conservatism in public purchasing that inhibits innovation. When I was on the Metra board, we were spending one million dollars a month just on building parking lots at Metra stations, which were full before they were built. The attitude is, 'If it's so good, why hasn't anybody done it so far?' And they're skeptical that we'd be able to do it at our price. They want a tried and true system, either that or a very large corporation that can stand behind the product. So we may team up with a big steel company, because 60 percent of our cost is in the steel guideway. We also save a lot of money in the turn control--it drastically reduces the maintenance cost.
"I get angry at the rigidity of the bureaucratic imagination--whether it's in companies, schools, or the welfare system. My sense is that they're employment centers for bureaucrats rather than places to do productive work, help people, or educate children. Institutions do play an important role. But they're not going to come up with radical new ways of dealing with things.
"Two things have kept me going: It's clear to me that the automobile is a terribly polluting destructive machine. It is impossible to keep going like this--even the electric cars, the hypercars, are too polluting. And the second thing is, could you imagine what this city would be like if we could convert some of these streets into gardens and tennis courts? I think it would do more to transform crime, jobs, city neighborhoods.
"John McKnight and I joke about 'how to become uncrazy in five years or less.' You come up with an idea that's way out in left field. You start working on it, and in five years it becomes common sense. I mean, who would've thought of an environmental organization for city neighborhoods or a community development bank? We need to focus on the fear of crime rather than crime, because when people are afraid they stop coming outside. They don't come to meetings. They stay inside and become alienated and associational life weakens. But strengthening associational life is the way to really get at crime.
"Anne is more deeply involved than I am. How to connect emerging public issues with the grassroots associations that can address them--that's a common thread of what Anne and I have done. I believe justice is rooted in the nature of reality. I think that--in theological terms--God is a god of justice. Walter Muelder said God guarantees the insecurity between every unjust set of relations. You work toward justice with a confidence that it is what a moral person does, even in the face of overwhelming odds.
"I run up against cynical or depressed young people who feel like there's nothing for them to do. There's so much to do out there. Where do you want to put your oar in? I taught management at the Kellogg School at Northwestern during the 1980s. We went through the Reagan era, where to have a civic purpose was looked at as not only misguided but virtually immoral--if people were free to pursue their self-interests, the problems of society would be solved. I saw enough of that in my management students to know how deeply embedded that was. The idea was and still is that markets are the chief decision-making tool for a society, and to interfere with the market was evil. This approach led to the greatest wave of corporate mergers the country had seen, the savings and loan debacle, tax cuts for the wealthy, an expanding gap between rich and poor, a declining political base for unions, the loss of support for affirmative action and environmental protection. When I was on the Metra board, it was easier to argue that promoting reverse commuting was sound management--filling up empty seats that were worthless--than to argue it was a matter of justice to get city workers to the suburban jobs.
"I've spent 35 years trying to be a citizen of Chicago. How do you be a citizen in a city like this? That search to understand how things really work and where you can get a handle in. You hear a lot of this stuff about the loss of civic life and the disappearance of citizenship. I don't believe in that, though I do think it's hard to be a citizen." o
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photographs by Lloyd DeGrane.