On average, the Chicago region thrived during the 1990s. But the boom skipped some areas; and negative trends, left unchecked, threaten our future.
There is much good news in the Regional Realities report issued Monday, Feb. 26, by Chicago Metropolis 2020. But the business and civic leaders who launched Metropolis two years ago now warn, in a data-filled annual report, that clouds are on the horizon.
Take traffic congestion. Chicagoans now spend an average of 44 hours each year stuck in traffic. That's a full work week, or two full days, or five-and-a-half nights of sleep.
It's also the fourth worst congestion average in the United States, and a statistic that weighs heavily against Chicagoland when corporations decide where to build new headquarters or distribution centers.
Too many such negatives, say Metropolis leaders, will hamstring the region's efforts to position itself among the emerging economic elites of the 21st Century such as New York, Shanghai, Berlin and Buenos Aires.
According to the report, Chicago is beginning to show weaknesses in key areas such as education, housing and transportation. Less than half of Chicago's eighth graders meet state standards in math. A severe shortage in rental housing and a spatial mismatch between affordable homes and new employment centers has put home ownership beyond the reach of those earning the region's median income, about $60,300/year.
However, Chicago's air and water quality has improved. Unemployment is down and the poorest area households are experiencing the fastest income growth. Infant mortality rates are down as well.
"It's both a state-of-the-region report and an early warning system," said Frank Beal, executive director of Chicago Metropolis 2020 in his presentation Monday at the Chicago Athletic Association, 12 S. Michigan Ave. This new research is an effort to "get behind the headlines and see how we're really doing," Beal said.
MPC President Mary Sue Barnett, a member of Chicago Metropolis 2020's executive council, told the audience that legislation is pending in Springfield that addresses some of the problems cited in the report. One bill would create a state Live Near Work Fund that would match contributions employers make to help workers buy homes closer to their jobs. Another bill would authorize intergovernmental cooperation councils and provide technical assistance funds to help municipalities plan for smarter growth.
Other findings of the Chicago Metropolis 2020 report:
- Violent crime during the 1990s dropped at a faster rate than the national rate.
- Sixty-two percent of Chicago residents believe their neighborhoods are safe for children.
- Child immunization in Chicago has improved but still lags behind statewide levels.
- Seven percent of high school students drop out each year.
- Natural areas and farmland are diminishing at a rapid rate as developed areas grow.
Chicago Metropolis 2020 was founded in 1998 by the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago with the publication of its first Chicago report, Chicago Metropolis 2020: Preparing Metropolitan Chicago for the 21st Century. Its goals are to encourage cooperation among businesses to foster economic vitality and improve quality of life for residents of the six-county Chicago region, helping make it one of the leading places in the world for people to live and work.
For more details about the report, visit Chicago Metropolis 2020's Web site.