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2012 Plan for Prosperity: Innovative Solutions for the New Normal

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To read MPC's 2012 Plan for Prosperity, download the file. The following is MPC President MarySue Barrett's introductory letter.

Sometimes, things aren’t what they seem. For decades, the United States enjoyed what appeared to be boundless economic expansion. Consumers spent and borrowed prolifically, and governments followed suit to serve growing populations. Thousands of new communities sprang up as the housing industry boomed. The credit market ballooned, and the Dow reached new heights. 

Then came the crash of 2008.

Gone are the days of easy credit, seemingly inexhaustible resources, and dizzying growth. Many Americans today are unable to find jobs, some are without homes, and budgets are uncomfortably tight, both for families and governments. As we all struggle to do more with less, we are wise to confront two critically important questions: How did we get here? And how can we learn from past mistakes?

Having moved beyond the initial crisis mode, we can see the past more clearly. The “good old days” are illusory; rapid economic growth had masked deeper problems. Even absent tax increases, government revenues climbed fast in the late 1990s through early 2000s, thanks to a productive manufacturing sector, the technology boom, the housing bubble, good times on Wall Street, and consumer spending. No matter that much of this “growth” rested on mounting debt and artificial value created by the stock market.

These trends fueled hastily and sometimes poorly planned community investments that yielded diminutive returns. During the “boom,” we spent on the present and didn’t take time to fully measure the impact of our decisions. Nor did we plan for the future, all but ignoring the long-term maintenance needs of what we were building, as well as predictable demographic shifts such as an aging population. Now, the future is here, and we are experiencing the pain of high foreclosure rates in many cities and villages, crumbling infrastructure across our region, and fiscal crises at all levels.

If this revelation is hard to swallow, the upside is that it is forcing policy makers to identify strategies to navigate the “new normal” – and, just as importantly, use criteria to measure our progress toward common goals: regaining America’s competitive edge, securing good jobs, and shaping a new era of sustainable economic prosperity that supports cities’ and regions’ business plans.

On the following pages, the Metropolitan Planning Council proposes tangible ideas to support a stronger economy, by rethinking how we invest in our communities, harnessing the power of technology to plan for our future, and rewarding the public and private sector for working together to more efficiently and effectively deploy resources. Some of these strategies were incubated in years past and are primed for action today; others are being tested in the living laboratory that is metropolitan Chicago. We welcome your feedback and invite you to partner with us on putting the ideas in our 2012 Plan for Prosperity to work.

Sincerely,

MarySue Barrett
President
Metropolitan Planning Council 
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For more than 80 years, the Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) has made the Chicago region a better place to live and work by partnering with businesses, communities and governments to address the area's toughest planning and development challenges. MPC works to solve today's urgent problems while consistently thinking ahead to prepare the region for the needs of tomorrow. Read more about our work »

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