Photo by Josh Hawkins
It will be a good two months before the petition dust settles and we know who the candidates for mayor of Chicago will be. But it’s definitely not too soon to think about the issues the next mayor will need to address when she or he takes office next May.
MPC has begun compiling a list of challenges that need to be on the next mayor’s agenda. We have broken it down to two categories: the Keepers are current programs and initiatives led by the City of Chicago that should continue or be expanded; the Seekers are initiatives, programs and activities that need nurturing and increased support from the city to succeed.
Underlying everything on these lists is the most important and most difficult challenge every elected official is facing today and for the foreseeable future: historic budget deficits. Chicago’s is more than $650 million, while Illinois is about $13 billion in the red. The next mayor will need to consider privatization of assets, service cuts, tax increases, and – above all – more efficient and strategic allocation of limited resources.
With that in mind, we want to know what you think ought to be on the new mayor’s to do list. Take a look at our list in progress, and use the comment box below to add your own. We’ll keep refining it, and offer MPC's help to every candidate who wants to learn more.
Regional decision-making and collaboration. The next mayor needs to understand Chicago is the core of a large, symbiotic metropolitan region that benefits both the city and suburbs through efforts such as the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus, Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, and Regional Transportation Authority.
Chicago Climate Action Plan. This has been heralded as one of the most thorough and rigorous in the country. The next mayor must harness the momentum of the numerous activities currently underway, and keep them on track. We are particularly enthusiastic about ramping up partnerships with employers to reward those who reduce the number of people driving solo to work.
Central Area Action Plan. A little over a year ago, the city updated its 2003 blueprint, with cost estimates and timelines for transformative transportation, open space and waterfront projects that will be critical to the city’s economic expansion. The West Loop Transportation Center is a key piece of the plan, and should be a top investment priority.
Water metering. The city can’t manage what it can’t measure; today it has approximately 350,000 single-family homes and two-flats that don’t have water meters. The city’s existing metering program is voluntary, and needs to be ratcheted up to include every home in Chicago.
First-ever pedestrian plan. The Chicago Dept. of Transportation is in the midst of drafting a strategy, advised by the Mayor’s Pedestrian Advisory Council, to ensure streets are safe for all users, including pedestrians, a vital ingredient of vibrant and livable neighborhoods. The new mayor must continue to support it and similar efforts, such as continuing to enforce the Pedestrian Safety Act, which requires Illinois drivers to stop, not just yield, to pedestrians at a crosswalk.
O’Hare Modernization Plan. The airport is key to every economic sector’s growth. Chicago’s next mayor will need to complete the runway realignment and pay comparable attention to western access and bypass and improved transit connections to the airport.
CREATE. This ambitious freight rail plan is another essential for economic growth. The current plan concentrates on fixing the existing network, but the new mayor needs to champion a next-generation plan to attract jobs by expanding intermodal capacity in the city and suburbs.
Affordable and workforce housing. Mayor Daley’s personal leadership has been significant. He’s championed the city’s Employer-Assisted Housing partnership with MPC, for example, which has helped hundreds live near work, reinvested in Chicago neighborhoods, leveraged new private sector resources, and attracted national attention and replication. With federal resources more focused on livable, pedestrian friendly communities, Mayor Daley’s successor can attract resources to ramp up these efforts dramatically.
Chicago Housing Authority Plan for Transformation. Partly a victim of the recession and partly due to a lack of coordinated investments in nearby transit and retail, the first mixed-income communities are a vast improvement, but are not yet achieving their full potential. New initiatives are capitalizing on the down economy, bringing smaller properties into the mixed-income portfolio with new private sector partnerships. All eyes are on Chicago to see if this huge undertaking – the largest and most ambitious redevelopment of public housing in history – can be a model for the nation.
Bus Rapid Transit, other lower-cost transit innovations, and transit-oriented development. Although Chicago missed deadlines to claim $153 million in federal funds for BRT in 2008, it’s currently a contender for a $150 million grant to create dedicated bus corridors. One well-executed pilot route could demonstrate the compelling return on investment.
Congestion pricing. Recent case studies conducted for the Illinois Tollway point to the enormous potential of congestion pricing for squeezing efficiencies from existing infrastructure and minimizing the chokehold traffic has on the entire region. A visionary leader could mobilize Chicagoland commuters to explore this innovative tool and expand travel choices.
Increased funding for transit, including from regional and non-traditional sources, with a commitment to “fix it first.” To maintain safe transit infrastructure – let alone provide for necessary service expansions such as those planned on the Red and Green Lines – Chicago Transit Authority, Metra and Pace need nearly $10 billion in capital funding during the new mayor’s first term. He or she cannot accomplish this alone, but will need to make it a top priority and be a vocal advocate all levels of government.
More coordinated action on water solutions, including the Chicago River and basin separation. Not so long ago, the idea of re-reversing the flow of the river was inconceivable. However, Mayor Daley and others have endorsed the effort as something worth considering to support the river as a center of transportation, tourism and recreation.
Redevelopment of the CHA’s Lathrop Homes, near Logan Square, and the Michael Reese Hospital site south of the Loop. With sound game plans, and the new mayor as quarterback, these initiatives could become prototypes for successful, sustainable, live-work urban villages. Lathrop's redevelopment is poised to set new national standards, thanks to CHA’s commitment to apply LEED-ND (LEED for Neighborhood Development) principles, a comprehensive approach to sustainable planning and broad engagement.