March 12, 2014, marked 80 years to the day that the Metropolitan Housing Council, as we were then known, incorporated as a nonprofit. The story of our founding continues to inspire: During the 1934 World's Fair, a group of civic leaders moved a ramshackle home to the fairgrounds and renovated it in 24 hours, helping millions of people see it was possible to improve the city's deplorable housing conditions.
That spirit of reinvention has permeated our region at pivotal times over the past 80 years. In many cases, it has been sparked by crises; but over the long haul, Chicago's ability to respond—not with quick fixes but with sustained solutions—has kept our region thriving and strengthened our connection to other regions.
For eight decades, MPC has played an integral role bringing government, community and business leaders together to hammer out workable solutions to the region's most pressing planning and development challenges. Our work has evolved: Today we focus on ensuring our region has quality housing and transportation choices, vibrant neighborhoods, well-managed natural assets and—by making sure all of those critical components are connected—a strong economy.
MPC's approach has helped the region address immediate challenges while preparing for the future. Learn more about MPC's history helping Chicagoland and other places reinvent—and read on for the perspectives of local and national business, civic and community leaders on MPC's future role in what the Brookings Institution terms the "metropolitan revolution."
Across the country, including in metropolitan Chicago, the capacity to address regional issues such as foreclosure recovery, vacancies and housing redevelopment varies widely from community to community. MPC understands that addressing these challenges requires building that regional connectivity and building that understanding between neighboring mayors and their staffs about the need to work together to keep the entire region strong. I wish every part of the Midwest had an organization like MPC that could help foster that regionalism. Here in Chicago, groups like Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, Metropolitan Mayors Caucus and MPC are talking the talk and walking the walk—and as a result, the federal government is right there, walking alongside, to make sure we help to sustain these collective efforts to revitalize our communities and the region as a whole.
—Antonio Riley, Midwest Regional Administrator, U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development
I grew up in South Lawndale, or Little Village, in the 80s and 90s, at a time when business was booming. Today, walking down 26th Street, you see storefront vacancies on every block, empty buildings and even a few new pawn shops. It looks unfamiliar to me, it doesn't resemble the bustling retail strip that I remember, and I am concerned. What we see happening on 26th Street is happening in other neighborhoods as well. Reinvestment is critical to generating job opportunities, increasing tax revenues, supporting city services, supporting families and stabilizing neighborhoods. We need vibrant neighborhoods across the city—north, south and west—to truly fulfill MPC's mission.
—Olga Camargo, Managing Partner, Toroso Investments, LLC; MPC Board member
Across the U.S., metropolitan regions are grappling with many of the same issues—ensuring all people have access to quality, affordable homes near good job opportunities; figuring out how to finance infrastructure in new, innovative ways, including public-private partnerships; and designing more accountable and transparent governments. The Ford Foundation supports MPC because they are a rare organization that not only applies fresh thinking, data analysis and thoughtful advocacy to solve problems in their region, metropolitan Chicago, but also shares the best of these ideas with regional decision-makers across the nation. We need MPC to stay on the frontlines of social change, to keep Chicagoland equitable and competitive and to help other cities and regions unlock their full potential.
—Don Chen, Senior Program Officer, Ford Foundation
Instead of sitting around waiting for something to happen, we initiated the Northwest Water Planning Alliance (NWPA), which covers a five-county area in our region. We decided that we needed to do this because we wanted to get serious about water resources and we wanted determine our own fate. MPC helped NWPA get started and it continues to be a valued partner in our efforts. We have developed a model conservation ordinance that has been adopted by several communities in our area. In addition, we developed a water reporting tool for member communities that provides a common, understandable format. Our vision is that area communities will acknowledge the importance of water-related issues—and agree that we can't sit around for decades to address the future. I recommend a book called The Big Thirst: The Secret Life and Turbulent Future of Water. It's all about why we shouldn't take water for granted. We want to see a grassroots or ground-up movement on water issues so people in our area not only have knowledge about water as a finite resource, but also can make timely decisions for the future. We need to create a way to address water issues that is local and proactive—and can be replicated elsewhere.
—Tom Weisner, Mayor of Aurora
One of the reasons I joined MPC is that I believe the organization and its leadership see our region not as individual parts and pieces, but as a total system that needs to work together. MPC can play a critical role in helping everyone in our region—business leaders, government, communities, the civic sector—come together to develop a unified vision and action plan for a seamless transportation network. Tackling this issue is kind of like repairing the roof on your house: It's not very sexy, but without a sturdy roof, the whole house will collapse. Transportation is absolutely critical to our region's economy, and we have to do a better job integrating the parts of our transportation network that deliver goods to grocery stores, hospitals and big box stores with the parts of the network that transport people to where they want and need to go. Collective leadership and action is needed to develop a plan for a holistic system to support our global economy and make this a place where businesses want to do business and people want to live.
—Ann M. Drake, CEO, DSC Logistics, Inc.; member, MPC Board of Governors
The surge for fresh water will only continue to grow as our population grows on the planet. It's not just a local issue—it's a global issue. The Great Lakes is one of the most amazing assets we have—it's an incredible gift. But let's also look at our human footprint: It's not balanced with our natural systems. In the Midwest, we see ourselves as land and water rich. But one thing we do is take land from our watershed and put it into sprawling communities. American cities are, in general, low-density, but we have to move to more compact cities; a more compact city leaves more open space in the watershed (MPC is valuable in sharing a related vision of cities that includes more walkable urban districts, mixed use patterns and smaller commutes). At our firm, we have given many lectures on the great lakes that tie into smarter city growth, agricultural practices and energy practices. I still get the idea that we are early in the game: People are not connecting environmental challenges and urban practices. The two go hand-in-hand, but that's a relatively new idea.
—Phil Enquist, Partner, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill
As chairman of the county board, I learned early on that I had the responsibility to appoint people to 52 commissions. However, I had no tools to oversee them or demand accountability. I went down to Springfield and tried to figure out what we could do about it. I found that there was something we could do, and our efforts to promote efficiency in government took an important step. Now, we have an opportunity to help find more efficient ways of delivering services. For the first time in Illinois history, legislators gave an elected officeholder authority to dissolve and consolidate agencies. What we do is very local, very nuts and bolts. Overall, we are trying to consolidate boards and commissions to help make our government more efficient. We have to prove that we're saving money—and that there's no diminution of services. The question I would like to ask is "You have nearly 7,000 units of government in Illinois—is our current way the best way to set them up? If not, then what's the best model?"
—Dan Cronin, Chairman, DuPage County Board
We absolutely need safe, reliable, efficient transportation to get people from their homes to their job. Our transit system needs significant investment for Chicago to be a truly forward-looking global city. Travel around the world, and you'll find so many other cities with more intuitive and quicker train systems. Chicago's transit ought to strengthen connections to our central business district, which in my opinion is one of the beauties of Chicago, a place where everyone comes together. That same transit system also must connect us back to our neighborhoods, to dine at local restaurants and shop at a local stores. As we rebuild our transportation infrastructure, one of the levers of economic development must be that local MBEs are part of the planning process and at the table early on as potential contractors. Whether its logistic centers or a new grocery store near an El stop, minority vendors should be part of the conversation from the beginning so that they are as prepared as the “big players” for the opportunity. MPC is uniquely positioned to tackle this issue because MPC's self-interest is the region's self-interest, and MPC's approach is data-driven, fact-based and collaborative. At a time when our governments are partisan, fractured and paralyzed, people are looking for groups like MPC to overcome that dysfunction and broker realistic, viable solutions to substantial challenges.
—Gloria Castillo, President and CEO, Chicago United
The Great Lakes CDI have 20 percent of the world's fresh surface water right in our backyard. That sets us apart from any other region in the country right off the bat. With that benefit—that gift—comes enormous responsibility to tend to those water resources. If we're smart, those waters will attract greater attention, business and recreation—and a stronger quality of life in the coming decade and beyond. If we're not careful, we might squander them instead of responsibly using them, especially doing more, better and faster to tend to our water infrastructure in the region. Now, people are appreciating the value of Lake Michigan much more than they have in the past. Thankfully, we're seeing barriers and walls to innovative infrastructure that used to exist in the past start to crumble. Business and environmental groups are talking to each other more; the us vs. them mentality is now the exception, not the rule. Why is this changing? With a growing population, the world is getting thirstier…and people are recognizing more and more that our future is bound to clean, fresh water.
—Cameron Davis, Senior Advisor to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator
Housing is critical, it's foundational for families—and it's the issue MPC started out addressing. Families that are affordably and stably housed are healthier, better able to get and keep jobs and their children do better in school. MPC's focus on solving the spatial mismatch between housing, jobs and transportation is also important and has many benefits. Families who don't have to commute a long distance obviously save on the costs of commuting. There are positive environmental impacts from living near work as well as benefits to employers who experience less turnover when people live closer to their jobs. People also have more time to spend with their families when they're not in long commutes at the beginning and end of the day. MPC's focus on developing mixed-income communities is also important given Chicago's history of hyper-segregation. Ignoring this issue will result in greater inequality and islands of rich people and poor people. That is not America; that is not its promise. By focusing on this issue, we can make sure that people have access to opportunity so that they can fulfill their dreams for themselves and their children.
—Deborah Bennett, Senior Program Officer, Polk Bros. Foundation