From June until mid-August, Praxis Institute asked weekly questions to youth ages 13–21 across Chicago. We called this series of questions “Dear Brandon” in recognition of our newly elected Mayor, Brandon Johnson.
The aim of this project was to better understand, celebrate, and uplift the vibrant heartbeat of Chicago — its young people. We hope the responses will help us better understand some of the aspirations, concerns, attitudes, challenges, and activities of Chicago’s youth. By listening to Chicago’s young people, we can build bridges of trust and understanding that will ensure their voices are powerfully echoed through the city’s services, initiatives, and policies.
- Each week we sent out 2 questions to youth participating in summer employment programming across Chicago.
- We used the platform alchemer as a survey instrument tool to collect the information.
- For each question, we read through the responses and found key themes that we will share with you over the next 3 blogs.
Today’s blog will explore the responses to 2 questions:
What are your favorite parts of Chicago and why do you like them?
What are some of the biggest challenges that you think youth in Chicago are facing right now?
Overall we had 708 unique responses.
Below is an age breakdown of respondents.
Zip Codes Where We Got the Most Responses (Top 15)
*We did our best to match the neighborhood to zipcodes but it is not 100% accurate.*
Dear Brandon: Downtown is my favorite part of Chicago
When asked: “What are your favorite parts of Chicago and why do you like them,” 49% of respondents said downtown is their favorite part of Chicago.
(N = 549)
Most Chicago youth say that Chicago’s downtown is their favorite part. This may indicate that teens are most familiar with the downtown area and desire to frequent the area often. Based on the responses, teens like downtown because of the views, the opportunity to travel outside of their neighborhood, a central place to hang out, the scenery, and things to do. Many responses mentioned Millenium Park, Navy Pier, and the Museum Campus.
“My favorite parts of Chicago are downtown because it’s so beautiful and at night it’s way better. I also love the Chicago public library.”
“I especially like Navy Pier and Lincoln Park Zoo because they’re free and very accessible.”
“Downtown Chicago because it’s like you get away from home for a minute and the museums, beaches, and restaurants.”
“My favorite part of Chicago is downtown because it is such beautiful scenery, especially at night when you can see all the bright lights. I also love shopping at all the stores downtown and then taking the train because I think it’s so peaceful.”
“My favorite parts of Chicago are The Buckingham Fountain and the water park downtown with the screens that shoot out water. I like these places because they have a lot of attractions that you can’t see in other parts of Chicago. They were fun to go as a small child and still are for all ages.”
“I love Millennium Park, it just feels like home. I love Chicago and being down there makes the vibes amazing.”
Dear Brandon: We love Chicago’s culture, diversity and neighborhoods.
20% of responses said the people, community, neighborhoods, and culture are their favorite parts of Chicago. The neighborhoods and communities mentioned varied, but overall the responses pointed to familiarity, culture, acceptance, and activities occurring across different Chicago communities.
“The acceptance the city provides for whatever person you are. Also the diversity in people. I like this because it means that finding someone that’s similar to me isn’t going to be hard. It’s easier to tell myself I’m not alone.”
“My favorite parts of Chicago are the niche areas like Hyde Park and college campuses but also kinda crowded but not too crowded areas like China Town. I like them because I feel like some interesting spots of Chicago are underrated.”
“I like how Chicago has so many different sub-cultures and distinctly different areas/neighborhoods over the city. I like how there isn’t one specific image or person who would be considered a “Chicagoan”.”
“My favorite parts of Chicago are the youth centers. It provides a place to go after school for youth etc.”
Dear Brandon: We appreciate Chicago’s beautiful parks and beaches.
14% of responses said Parks & Beaches. Youth especially talked about the different programs and activities available at the parks.
“Our parks and our trees because it contradicts the skyscraper stereotype of the city from an outsider’s perspective.”
“Parks. It helps me stay in touch with my friends and it’s like a stress relief.”
“Great parks and recreation such as Warren Park offer ice skating in winter and ping pong in spring. We need a safe park and recreation initiative.”
4% of responses said the food is their favorite part of Chicago
“My favorite parts of Chicago are the restaurants because of the different foods you can find and taste.”
“The food places are iconic.”
“I like all of the Chicago food spots ’cause I’m a foodie.”
Dear Brandon: Violence remains one of our biggest challenges.
When asked the question: “What are some of the biggest challenges that you think youth in Chicago are facing right now,” 43% of responses named violence as the biggest challenge. (n = 623)
Respondents stated that a form of violence whether it be gun violence, kidnapping, sex trafficking, or discrimination is their greatest obstacle. Many responses mentioned that the violence that exists in Chicago makes them feel unsafe, stressed and anxious.
“I think the biggest challenge is fear of losing your life to gun violence.”
“I feel like some of the biggest challenges facing youth in Chicago today are gangs, gun violence, drugs, peer pressure, and the need to fit in. Also growing up in abusive, violent, and unstable households and neighborhoods.”
“I think being pulled or pressured into dangerous lifestyles for money.”
“I think some big challenges are racial discrimination and under-invested neighborhoods.”
“We can’t go anywhere or do anything without being worried about people shooting at each other, getting robbed, or carjacked.”
Dear Brandon: We feel unheard by by older age groups.
12% of responses described not being heard or seen as well lack of support as being their biggest challenge. Youth mentioned that adults ignore youth input because of labels like ‘inexperienced’, ‘immature’, and ‘disrespectful’. Additionally, the lack of youth support came from challenges with family, school and other institutions.
“I think some of the biggest challenges that the youth in Chicago are facing right now are being able to put their voice out there AND be heard. There isn’t a large number of people that are willing to listen to kids because they feel that kids are irresponsible and immature and won’t have anything important to say on the matter (from my experience).”
“I think we are mainly facing the problem of not being able to discover what we are truly interested in and want to pursue as a career. Schools aren’t providing this and many of us don’t know how to find this.”
“Some of the biggest challenges the youth are facing is sometimes not having a parent to actually guide them on the right path so instead they are out all night doing the wrong things.”
“The biggest challenge that I think youth is facing is coming from so many broken homes. They need more mentors.”
Dear Brandon: Financial insecurity is our biggest challenge.
11% of responses said financial insecurity is the biggest challenge. Teens reported that financial instability and poverty are linked to problems such as gang violence, food insecurity, and health disparities. Many responses stated the need for policymakers to provide more economic opportunities for youth.
“The work conditions, it’s not healthy and you get paid so little that you barely have enough to survive.”
“I think one of the biggest challenges facing the youth in Chicago right now is poverty. Children grow up in environments where grown-ups and older siblings practice poor finances, affiliate themselves with gangs, take substances, do poorly in school, or don’t go at all.”
“Food Insecurity: Many neighborhoods in Chicago lack access to affordable, nutritious food, leading to food insecurity among youth. Limited availability of healthy food options contributes to health disparities and can negatively impact physical and cognitive development.”
“The biggest challenge that youth in Chicago is facing right now is financial instability.”
“Finding more jobs at my age.”
Dear Brandon: We need more mental health support
8% of responses said mental health is the biggest challenge. Teens talked about the many mental health challenges they are facing and the lack of support to overcome these issues.
“I think there are a lot of struggles with mental health right now. I’ve been hospitalized because of poor mental health and a lot of my peers are also struggling. Gun violence and mentions of it make me extremely anxious, and this city isn’t exactly the safest. Plus, with news about shootings around America and general crime around the world, a lot of us are struggling to keep it together I think.”
“Falling into depression and doing things that can affect their health immensely is something that saddens me. Seeing teens turn to drugs, alcohol, self-harm or even suicide is a very upsetting thing to see.”
“The biggest thing we are facing right now is mental health issues. With so much hate in the world, it has such an effect on mental health.”
“Coming from a more affluent background and going to a selective enrollment school, academic stress, and mental health issues are the main things I’ve noticed among my friends and the people I’m around. I feel like Gen Z is more open about what our personal struggles are, but we still don’t know how to deal with those problems and get help, so it often falls on friends to deal with each other’s mental health issues that we have no training for dealing with.”
7% of responses said social media and addiction to different forms of technology
Some teens believe that their habits on social media and technology are shortening attention spans, causing them to be unmotivated, and stunting their in-person social skills. Some also believe that social media may promote dangerous trends and harmful cultures.
“Socialization since with the internet and stuff. A lot of kids and teens really don’t feel the need to socialize as much as in the past.”
“I think youth in Chicago struggle with a lot of bad influences (social media).”
“Not having energy or wanting to get out of the home and interact with people.”
“Short attention spans.”
6% of responses said the lack of accessibility to quality education and after-school programs is the biggest challenge
Teens discussed the challenges they face getting a quality education as well as the importance of increasing the number of after-school programs.
“Getting into high school. They have standardized tests to put kids in certain high schools but that’s a bad way to do it. A lot of kids are bad at test-taking due to anxiety, ADHD, etc.”
“I think one of the biggest challenges the Chicago youth are facing now is school. I feel like lots of kids and teens get stressed with school work.”
“It’s hard to get into good schools because of the lottery thing. Not all schools offer the same stuff.”
“Not being able to get opportunities to do things during summer break or after-school you might have a passion for.”
3% of responses said transportation is the biggest challenge
Youth talked about feeling unsafe riding CTA, the need to make CTA more affordable for some youth, and the struggle of a long commute to get to their job.
“I believe youth in Chicago commonly face the challenge of feeling safe on public transportation.”
“Transportation is a big problem for kids who don’t have money.”
“Locations are too far, so job opportunities are very low.”
Final Notes & Thanks
Please keep in mind this was a “convenience sample.” We wanted to try this out and had a limited timeframe to do so (summer 2023). While youth respondents represent different age groups and there were responses from every Chicago zip code, these responses do not represent the views and opinions of all Chicago youth.
This project was funded and implemented by Praxis Institute. This project was not funded by any other sources and there is no direct affiliation with the city government of Chicago.
Special thank you to the organizations that participated in this project:
After School Matters, Alternative Schools Network, Companies That Care, Chicago Housing Authority, Mikva Challenge and the Puerto Rican Cultural Center.
Immense gratitude for Jaelyn Braswell. Co-author and researcher extraordinaire.