By Allison Matyus
Chicago has about 2.7 million people living in its city limits, so naturally, it’s a bit difficult to communicate or meet with people from different areas of the city. That’s where the idea for the Hello Booths came from for last week’s Chicago Ideas Week.
The simple concept of exchanging ideas and taking the time to listen to the thoughts of another person proved to make a positive impact during the annual week-long festival. Twenty of these booths were placed at locations throughout the city; from as far south as Ashburn, to all the way up north in Albany Park, and everywhere in between like Daley Plaza, Merchandise Mart, various Chicago Public Libraries, and the Studio XFINITY store.
These booths were powered by Comcast and NBCUniversal to bring Chicagoans from across the city together. Once you sat inside a booth, a prompt popped up on the screen and you could choose to record a video, watch recorded videos made by others, and even directly connect to another person sitting at a booth somewhere else in the city.
According to Sona Jones, the Director of Marketing & Media for Chicago Ideas Week, more than 200 people recorded messages in these booths. These included born and raised Chicagoans, people who had moved to Chicago, visitors from other parts of the country and the world, and even a few notable public figures.
Cameron Monaghan from the Chicago-based TV show “Shameless” recorded a video, as well as NBC morning show anchor, Alex Maragos.
“Going to new places on the South Side or the West Side is something I think would really make Chicago a stronger city, because even though we are so close geographically, I think the neighborhoods can be so different,” Maragos said. “There’s really a lot to learn in the city of Chicago.”
Others shared insight on how they think Chicago can become an even better and stronger city in the Hello Booths.
“A way I think to make our city really stronger is by if everyone knew about the things that were happening around the city, because we have so much to offer here,” one user said in his recording. “I think if everyone knew about all the amazing things happening here, then we can really be a great city and embrace our own culture.”
Users had the option of using talking point prompts that ranged from “What do you love about Chicago?”, to “What is your idea to make Chicago stronger?”, and “What do you think the world should know about Chicago?”
Jones said the overall response to these booths were extremely positive.
“People were excited to have the opportunity to connect with one another, pledge messages for change, and engage in meaningful conversation,” she said.
Aside from discussing Chicago, the booths were also meant to foster a discussion between those with differing viewpoints. Jones said this is something they really wanted to focus on with the booths.
“In today’s political climate, we felt that the best thing we could do for the community was create a space to share ideas,” Jones said.
Despite the political climate across the country and even the local struggles here in Chicago itself, overwhelming, people had positive things to say about the city.
“The one thing I really love about this city is just how innovative everyone here is,” another user recorded. “People think LA and New York is known for creativity, but I feel like Chicago really has something great to offer.”