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Top 25 By '25: Ambitious Vision For Rockford

Susan Stephens

Energy was high at the Coronado Theater last night: it has been more than seven months since Transform Rockford held its first community rally there, asking people to help create an ambitious plan for the city. 

WNIJ’s Susan Stephens was at last night’s follow-up rally, where more than 14-hundred people took the next step in the long process.

The loud crowd was determined to stay positive and support Transform Rockford’s next step in its ambitious project. David Sidney got them to pledge to keep it going.

“Are you willing to commit and engage in this process til this vision is actually realized?”

Sydney is one of the Transform Rockford members who helped with the more than 50 community input sessions leading up to The Vision. The draft vision, at least. This ultimate goal for the city is to make Rockford one of the top 25 places to live in the country by 2025. It will also be a region where people are “engaged, inspired, and are leading successful and fulfilling lives.”

“Um, I’ve been waiting for something like this…forever”

Philippe Gardner spent the evening gathering feedback from people about whether Transform Rockford got its vision right. He’s the type of volunteer community groups covet, and from a demographic so often endangered in older industrial cities like Rockford.

I’m a young person, single, no kids, I just bought a house here a year ago. I wanted to be involved in something much larger than myself. Something that was going to have a real purpose, a real meaning. Something that made me want to get up in the morning. I mean, I work finance, and I love my job. This is a nice balance.

More than half a year down the road, it’s still early in the process. So far, Transform Rockford has made a case for why change is needed, what values are shared by all community members, and in a few weeks, will finalize its vision and the 12 areas where citizens can get involved. Those include education, safety, arts, and jobs. Former Rockford mayor John McNamara is on board. He says he loves the process being used because it builds upon the strengths the city already has:

“I love the idea that they used all these different people. Especially younger people to talk and of multiple races. And they went back over them a couple of times. So I think people are understanding what this means.”

Ruth Fairchild has lived in Rockford for 20 years. She says she’s going to get more of her neighbors involved in the effort because this is the first time she feels everyone is welcome…and everyone’s opinion is being heard.

Flory Guevara grew up in Chicago, but has made Rockford her home for the last decade. And she plans to raise her daughters there. That’s why the effort is important to her.

“Rockford is a real beautiful town. I love it. A lot of people talk about negative things about Rockford and it is how they live. And how they live is how they see life. I think there are a lot of positives about Rockford.”

The Transform Rockford process can sound pretty dry on paper: it was developed and is funded by local business leaders. It’s based in strategic planning models.  It’s going to take years to make it through all of the steps in the flow charts. It’s a lot of work. But that’s not how volunteer Philippe Gardner sees it.

“This is dealing with people and emotions and families and neighborhoods and jobs and health and education, all of it. It’s so exciting to be able to learn about all of these industries, all of these different facets of our community, and being able to have, not a say, but some input into what’s happening. This is like grassroots movement, truly. It’s a great thing to be a part of.”

Transform Rockford is counting on long-term community involvement. They need lots of people to pitch in: each of the twelve focus areas will have a business, faith, and community leader heading it, with others advising. Executive director Mike Schablaske says it’s not an organization: he believes it’s a mindset and a movement.

Transform Rockford's Vision Draft

The vision intro, full statement, and twelve impact statements are up for community discussion. Once they are finalized, it's time to move into the next part of The Transformation Process, defining the strategy to reach those goals.

Vision Intro

We are a top 25 community where our people are engaged, inspired, and are leading successful and fulfilling lives.

Vision Statement

Our community is recognized  as one of the very best regions to live in the U.S. Our residents are thriving and enjoying a superior quality of life. We have transformed our community by embracing our diversity, fostering a crime-free culture, and delivering an excellent education to all our children.

We have an agile and robust economy built on the renaissance of North American manufacturing, logistics, agribusiness, and our adjacency to urban centers, such as Chicago. Our infrastructure is robust, our workforce is sought after, and our vibrant neighborhoods and cultural and recreational amenities draw people to locate in our region.

Impact Statements

These are the 12 areas people who participated in visioning forums chose as areas of focus.

  • Safety
  • Healthy Lifestyles
  • Education
  • Economy and Jobs
  • Planning
  • Funding and Alignment
  • Quality
  • Physical Infrastructure
  • Families and Neighborhoods
  • Leadership and Youth
  • Arts and Recreation
  • Unity, Pride, and Culture
Susan is an award-winning reporter/writer at her favorite radio station. She's also WNIJ's Perspectives editor, Under Rocks contributor, and local host of All Things Considered.
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