One afternoon a month, at the end of the day, the MPC
office slows down for a staff “wine and cheese.” We rarely manage 100 percent
attendance because there is always someone whose work takes them out of the
office to Addison or Andersonville or Aurora. Still, it is an important
tradition that gives a tight-knit, dedicated group of people a little break. We
socialize with each other, reflect on our successes and challenges, and often
celebrate significant personal occasions. Our monthly gatherings have marked
birthdays, weddings, new babies, and this April, my 10th anniversary as president.
I can hardly believe it has already been 10 years; so
much has changed in metropolitan Chicago for the better. A recent profile by the
Economist, the international news magazine, dubbed Chicago a success story,
having thwarted the doomsday predictions of the 80s that we would “descend into
rust-bound decay.” As the magazine eloquently reports, “Chicago is a city
buzzing with life, humming with prosperity, sparkling with new buildings, new
sculptures, new parks, and generally exuding vitality.” And while the report
focuses on the city of Chicago, we know it is the regional collaboration that
began to take hold in the 1990s that sparked this revival.
The Metropolitan Planning Council has embraced the
precept of regionalism from the beginning and our Regional Civic Initiative,
launched in 1992 to promote regional vitality through public and private sector
cooperation, gave birth to efforts of which we can all be proud.
The Council helped create the state’s first guarantee of a per-pupil minimum
funding level in 1997, and has successfully pushed the state to make regular
down payments toward the goal of adequate funding for schools.
Our work has helped 500 residents become homeowners
closer to where they work, thanks to the innovative use of employer-assisted
housing – a tool that has worked in high-cost suburbs, as well as revitalizing
urban neighborhoods, and has inspired a bill in Congress to mimic Illinois’ incentives.
Because we understand that metropolitan Chicago’s
economic success is dependent on investing in our transportation infrastructure,
the Council catapulted freight rail onto the regional priority list and became a champion of public-private partnerships.
prosperity will be short-lived if we, as a state, fail to fix our broken school
funding system. Even if you are not a parent, even if your community’s schools
are already delivering a first-rate education, even if you oppose tax increases on principle, this matters to you.
We are not getting the job done when it comes to
educating our children, which is going to cost all of us in the long run, and we
are relying on an antiquated tax structure that cannot sustain our needs and is
stifling our future. MPC has been committed to this issue since I began my tenure here, and we will keep up the fight.
And as I reflect on that tenure, and the awesome Council
staff and volunteers who have accomplished so much on behalf of the people who
live and do business in Illinois, I am confident that on one of these afternoons
very soon, we are going to be celebrating our greatest victory yet.