"I called my mom the next day, and she's like, 'I'm going to come down and get you,'" he said. "That was my introduction to Lawndale. And then, nothing else that dramatic happened the rest of that summer."
Doig returned to Wheaton to finish his bachelor's degree in history, but he didn't forget Lawndale.
"I fell in love with working with the kids, working with people in the community," he said. "I guess at that point I decided this is something I really love; I don't know how to make a living doing it, but I want to pursue it."
That last year of college, he met an education student named Tami who had spent a summer in Bolivia through the same program that had sent him to Lawndale. Though in different countries, they had shared similar experiences. She was interested in working in Latin America, but he persuaded her there was important work to be done in Chicago too.
"What I found interesting about him was his passion for justice and his real commitment to be part of a solution to American urban issues," she said.
They married in 1987, the same year Doig enrolled in the University of Chicago to pursue a master's degree in public policy. He continued to attend Sunday services at the Lawndale Community Church.
"I am a strong Christian," Doig said. "I believe that our works really should flow from our faith, that what we do should represent who we are and what we believe."
When he graduated in 1988, he told the Rev. Wayne Gordon that he wanted to help at the church. It was good timing because the pastor, Doig said, was thinking about starting a development corporation. Doig's help would be welcome, though there was no money to pay him.
Tami Doig had a teaching job in the suburbs that would cover their bills, so the couple moved to Lawndale, and Doig became development director of Lawndale Christian Development Corp., which focused on buying vacant buildings, renovating and reselling them.
He also started a couple of businesses, including a welding company and a dry cleaner, that were run by the church. But contracts eventually ran out, congregants came and went, and the businesses failed.
"That taught me a lesson that, if it is going to be sustainable, it has got to be something that it is owned by someone within the community," Doig said.
In 1994, after working in Lawndale for six years, Doig was ready for a change. He said his plan had always been to get the corporation started and then turn it over to someone with more roots in the community. In his job there, he had developed his connections with city officials, and he turned to then-Housing Commissioner Marina Carrott. She offered him a job as deputy commissioner of real estate for the city's department of housing, he said. He took it.
Two years later, he became the first deputy commissioner of what was then the city's Department of Planning and Development. It was a time of growth for the city. During Doig's time there, the department created about 70 of the controversial tax increment financing districts, he said, which gave him insight into the use of the incentive to encourage development.
In 1999, Doig landed the top spot at the Chicago Park District, amid efforts to distribute the agency's $300 million-plus budget more widely across the city, especially in communities that had been neglected for decades.
With that mission in mind, he oversaw beautification projects in neighborhood parks, such as the restoration of Humboldt Park and the Garfield Park Conservatory. He also tackled nontraditional projects, such as building a roller rink and bowling alley in Hawthorne Park and a skate park in Uptown, which drew some criticism because he replaced the tennis courts.
Erma Tranter, president of the advocacy group Friends of the Parks, said overall, "a lot of good things" were accomplished in neighborhood parks during Doig's years. However, her group battled him over the $690 million project to renovate Soldier Field.
A Tribune analysis showed the public portion of the bill was $432 million. Daley insisted it was necessary to keep the Bears in Chicago. Friends of the Parks challenged the plan in court, claiming the deal illegally funded a private project with public funds. They lost.
Of that time, Doig said: "I learned that sometimes, as a leader, you have to make hard decisions. They might not be popular. They might not be something that everyone is going to embrace."
In early 2004, with the Soldier Field reconstruction behind him, Doig announced that he was stepping down from his $145,000-a-year post to spend more time with his children, Clarke, then 8, and Olivia, 11. The family had appeared in a National Geographic reality show, spending 14 days living with a family in Morocco. The traveling was an adventure for the family, but when the show aired, Doig watched himself talking on the phone in the background while Clarke told the world, "Yeah, my dad is never around."
David Doig, president of Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives
Head of Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives hopes Pullman Park development will pull in jobs, growth
Early experiences primed him for controversies, from Soldier Field renovations to plans for a Wal-Mart in Pullman Park area
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