The fortunes of the city of Chicago have become clouded in recent years as concerns over its weakening finances and heavy debt obligations have grown. The tally for the unfunded public employee debt obligations of Chicago’s overlapping units of local governments (including those for public schools, parks, and county services) is now approaching $30 billion. Moreover, the city government has been criticized for its practices of funding current public services with proceeds from the issuance of long-term debt and the long-term leases of public assets (such as its parking meter system). read more »
Years ago, when I first started working as a planner for the City of Chicago, my primary responsibility was working with community organizations that received Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding for commercial revitalization activities. This being CDBG funding, our work was constrained to areas of the city where 51% or more of households earned less than the median household income for the Chicago metro area. read more »
“Human happiness,” the Greek historian Herodotus once observed, “does not abide long in one place.” In its 240 years or so of existence, the United States has experienced similar ebbs and flows, with Boston replaced as the nation’s commercial capital first by Philadelphia and then by New York. The 19th century saw the rise of frontier settlements—Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and finally Chicago—that also sought out the post position. In the mid 20th century, formerly obscure Los Angeles emerged as New York’s most potent rival. read more »
I recently moved from Cincinnati to Providence, Rhode Island, although I still think of the Detroit area as my hometown. All of these cities are based on their access to water. Providence, despite its location at the mouth of an Atlantic bay, is still a river-town at heart. Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel has plans for a new and improved riverwalk, too. What can these cities learn from each other? read more »
The City of Broad Shoulders may have two faces, but how will it age?
This was the essence of the question that the Chicago Tribune was asking in October of 2013 when it urged readers to re-envision the city’s original 1909 plan in a modern context. In the 115 years since, and especially recently, Chicago has become a glitzy glass and steel mecca for Midwest yuppies. It's also become an unfortunate poster child for corruption, financial struggles, urban violence, and poor schools. It’s a city whose two reputations could hardly be more different. read more »
Much attention has been given the increase in transit use in America. In context, the gains have been small, and very concentrated (see: No Fundamental Shift to Transit, Not Even a Shift). Much of the gain has been in the urban cores, which house only 14 percent of metropolitan area population. read more »
Photographs of downtown skylines are often the "signature" of major metropolitan areas, as my former Amtrak Reform Council colleague and then Mayor of Milwaukee (later President and CEO of the Congress of New Urbanism) John Norquist has rightly said. The cluster of high rise office towers in the central business district (CBD) is often so spectacular – certainly compared with an edge city development or suburban strip center – as to give the impression of virtual dominance. I have often asked audiences to guess how much of a metropolitan area's employment is in the CBD. Answers of 50 percent to 80 percent are not unusual. read more »
The American Public Transportation Association (APTA) is out with news of higher transit ridership. APTA President and CEO Michael Melaniphy characterizes the new figures as indicating "a fundamental shift going on in the way we move about our communities.” Others even characterized the results as indicating "shifting consumer preferences." The data shows either view to be an exaggeration.
1935 and 2013 read more »