Going It Alone in the Region - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Going It Alone in the Region


The city needs to think and act more like the regional partner it is. Chicago’s pursuit of increased transit funding, better transit performance, sustainable water management and other critical issues suffer from Chicago’s reluctance to partner with other regional actors. By reengaging in collaborative efforts locally and regionally—such as the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus—Chicago stands to benefit.

Regional Re-engagement

Chicago has withdrawn from meaningful, collaborative engagement with neighboring suburbs, but also with likeminded cities throughout the Great Lakes. Despite being a founding member of the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus and the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative, Chicago has disengaged in recent years, with harmful results in Springfield, Washington D.C., and at home.

Recommendation: The City of Chicago, and the Mayor specifically, should immediately reengage with the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus and work toward collaborative solutions on workforce, housing, traditional and reverse commuting, regional economic development, the Greenest Region Compact and more. Additionally, the city and Mayor should reengage the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative to advocate for and implement solutions on lead in drinking water systems, climate change, invasive species and protection of the planet’s greatest reserve of available fresh drinking water.

Water Rates

Chicago sells drinking water to dozens of suburbs, and its recent rate increases—done with no consultation or even courtesy outreach—have fractured regional trust. While the rate increases were warranted, the approach was not. Now many suburbs are actively pursuing alternative water supplies, which will result in reduced revenue for Chicago, as well as reduced efficiency of Chicago’s water infrastructure.

Recommendation: The Mayor and the Dept. of Water Management should meet with the Mayor of every suburban water customer to restore trust, but also to negotiate and secure long-term contracts that will guarantee Chicago continued revenue, but also provide suburban communities with certainty about rates so they can make their own water management decisions.


Chicago has long sought increased revenue for the CTA, but has not participated in regional transit funding efforts or integrated transit planning including Metra and Pace. This ignores the fact that not only do hundreds of thousands of people use Metra and Pace every day to commute to and from Chicago, but that Chicagoans use more than 60 Metra stations within the city, and that Pace provides paratransit services to many Chicago residents. Regional transit and transportation planning also suffers from the same isolationist approach.

Recommendation: The city should actively work with the RTA, Metra, Pace, CTA, Cook County and CMAP in a regional partnership to secure additional revenue for transit, and to plan for a more integrated and equitable transit system. The city should support efforts in Springfield and Washington D.C. to secure funds for all of the region’s transit service providers, not just the CTA.

Climate Change

In the wake of the Trump Administration abandoning the Paris Climate Agreement, Chicago convened the North American Climate Summit in December 2017 to establish the Chicago Climate Charter. More than 70 cities in the U.S., Canada and Mexico signed on, as did the City of Chicago and 10 other Cook County municipalities. Since the signing of the charter, Chicago has not engaged with those suburbs, many of which are looking to the city for direction, and it is unclear the extent to which Chicago has fulfilled the commitments of that charter at all.

Recommendation: The city should issue a Year 3 report on its implementation of the Chicago Climate Charter and outstanding work ahead, and convene a regional forum with its 10 neighboring co-signatories, the Mayors Caucus and other regional actors to share best practices and determine regional coordination to scale up climate change mitigation and adaptation actions.


100 Day Actions
  • Coordinate with the RTA and transit service providers on a joint funding approach to advance in Springfield and Washington, DC.
  • Meet with leadership of the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus and Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative, respectively, to develop joint action and rapport.
  • Charge the Dept. of Water Management and Dept. of Finance with developing options for long-term water sale contracts.
First Year Actions and Goals
  • Begin reengagement with the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus by hosting a regional Mayors forum in Chicago, and attend one in the suburbs.
  • Begin reengagement with the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative by hosting a Great Lakes Mayors forum in Chicago, and attend one in the suburbs.
  • Begin discussions with suburban water customers on long-term contracts with dependable rates.
  • Partner with RTA and transit service providers on a study to determine self-derived revenues that do not require State or Federal action.
First Term Goals
  • Increase transit funding through regional partnership.
  • Hold the 2nd North American Climate Summit, and develop implementation actions and metrics in partnership with suburban co-signatories.
  • Secure long-term, sustainable water system revenues through mutually beneficial sale contracts.

Additional Considerations

Why the time is right

A change in leadership allow for a reset in local and regional relationships, and the condition of Chicago’s transit system, water management, and budget necessitate that those relationships be mended.

What it will take

Fundamentally, these recommendations require only a mindset and tone change from City Hall. But intergovernmental relationships require multiple touch points—not only will the Mayor need to engage in regular dialogue with suburban Mayors, but Commissioners and staff at multiple departments will need to be similarly inclined.

Alignment with other Initiatives and Priorities of City or Partners

A more regionally engaged City of Chicago can only help spur progress on the Chicago Climate Charter, Great Rivers Chicago, ON TO 2050, the Greenest Region Compact, and commitments made through partnerships such as C40 and the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

Other considerations

Chicago’s collaboration across the state line with communities in Indiana is equally poor, despite the fact that for many thousands of Chicago residents the employment, recreation and shopping amenities in Whiting, Hammond, and East Chicago are closer and more easily accessed than those elsewhere in Chicago.

This page can be found online at http://www.metroplanning.org/multimedia/publication/913

Metropolitan Planning Council 140 S. Dearborn St.
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Chicago, Ill. 60603
312 922 5616 info@metroplanning.org

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