Do you remember your first time going on the Internet? My memory of that day is quite distinct. It happened in a Bucktown apartment I shared with a roommate, and he connected via dial-up to a university web page. It took forever.

At the time, I had just moved to Chicago for a new job – it seems like a long time ago. The year was 1996. Today, we can go to Tahrir Square on Google Earth within seconds.

The victorious story of the Internet exemplifies the impact of technological innovation over the last two decades and the ever evolving nature of communication. During the same time, change has also been the key attribute with regard to the economy. The scientific community is unequivocal in its assessment of human-progress related changes to our climate.

Times have changed.

The sooner we acknowledge this fact, the better. The trend of human progress of the past tells us that the rate of change will continue to accelerate.

Change and its counterpart, preservation, also provide a surprisingly accurate frame of reference when considering the fundamentals of politics.

American democracy is based upon preserving core values and purposes on one hand, and changing or adding laws as needed on the other. Thomas Jefferson says as much in an 1816 letter to a contemporary historian:

“I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions,” Jefferson wrote. “But laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times.”

The increasing complexity and interconnectedness of the world we live in today demands a broader understanding of circumstances and context. Abraham Lincoln knew this when he started the concluding paragraph of the Gettysburg Address with “but, in a larger sense.”

Today, we need to see our actions in a local, regional, national and global context and figure out how to collaborate in ways that will enable us to meet the challenges of tomorrow.

One key challenge of our region is the fragmented nature of our government bodies, set up in the 19th century. Throughout the 20th century, operating in organizational silos was the political modus operandi for governmental units, crisply separated and independent from each other and often competing for the same revenue opportunities and tax dollars.

Today, the Chicago metro area is comprised of a total of 1,226 government units, when less than 100 or 200 should be achieved for effective coordination in the 21st century.

In addition to government reform, we need a bottom-up, citizen-driven approach to resolving today’s challenges. Equipped with computers in our homes and connected to each other by the Internet and social media, let’s start acting like a pragmatic, open and inclusive caucus, across taxing districts and jurisdictions. Collaboration across party lines is as important as coordinating business interests, not-for-profit volunteering and philanthropic action.

In short, we need the Next Civic Spirit, and we ought to start right here in Riverside.

What better place to embark on such a journey than the place created over 140 years ago by one of the most deeply humanistic urban planners and visionary leaders of the time, Frederick Law Olmsted? Every day, we benefit from the physical embodiment of his vision of civic spirit.

If we are serious about attempting to be worthy stewards of his legacy, we must embark on the journey for the Next Civic Spirit, and proactively do our share in contributing towards a more perfect world.

• Tom Jacobs is a principal with Krueck & Sexton Architects in Chicago and an associate professor at IIT College of Architecture and the School of Urban Design at University of Wisconsin/Milwaukee. He is the founder of the Riverside Sustainability Council, and a board member of the Frederick Law Olmsted Society of Riverside.

If you go…

Riverside in the Urban Millennium: The Need for the Next Civic Spirit

  • A lecture by Tom Jacobs
  • Co-hosted by the Frederick Law Olmsted Society, the village of Riverside, the Riverside Public Library and the Riverside Sustainability Council.
  • Wednesday, March 23, 7:30 p.m.
  • Riverside Township Auditorium, 27 Riverside Road