What should be on the new Chicago mayor's to-do list? - Metropolitan Planning Council

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What should be on the new Chicago mayor's to-do list?

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.

The Keepers

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.

The Seekers

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.


  1. 1. Andy from Chicago on September 22, 2010

    The City needs to establish a capital improvement and maintenance program. Too many of the facilities throughout the city are poor or dilapidated conditions, often as a result of deferred maintenance. Yes it will a little more money now, but it will be cheaper than having to replace the entire facility later. Its like not changing your oil in your car; you are just waiting for your car to breakdown and you have to replace it. These problems happen across all aspects of the city; from schools, to train stations, to streets, to park buildings. Our city is crumbling. We need a plan to keep it running for the next century.

  2. 2. glenn reedus on September 23, 2010

    Outstanding lists and insights. Thanx for trying to nudge the big shoulders to places much smaller communities have been for decades.
    The South Suburban News understands that the residents here will play a role also in who is the city's next mayor. To read more visit: http://southsnews.com/viewnews.php?newsid=640&id=17

  3. 3. Garrett Zajac on September 27, 2010

    How about de-grandfathering the fisk and crawford power plants? The most recent edition of the American Journal of Psychiatry just showed that continued exposure to particulate matter causes a significant increase in suicidal tendencies in children who have asthma. This should make us think twice about how we treat our poor.

  4. 4. John Paul Jones from Southside Chicago on October 7, 2010

    The next Mayor needs to have a strong Federal and State response to the continual financial crisis facing the nation. Chicago's annual budget, both its operatng and capital spending program, are largerly driven by outside grants and tax returns, therefore we msut be prepared to challenge any projected shortcomings. Chicago next Mayor must be prepared to advocate and support existing plans from CTA and CMAP to match funding support for projects like the Red Line Extension Project and other major transit, waterway and trails projects.

    Overall, the Mayor must be prepared to tackle Chicago's growing poverty rate, food deserts, and health disparities. Not to mention Chicago's very isolated and oftentimes poorly executed emergency prepareness strategy. More chicagoans msut participate and anticipate ways to respond in case of emergency.
    Public Safety and a total revamping of the CAPS program will be needed to head-off violence and to make a higher priority, Chicago's record for solving cases. Too many victims cases remain open and unsolved, we can't expect people to participate in crime fighting, if they too are seeking justice. Also, we need a Mayor that would be ready to tackle intergovernmental affairs and properly direct and protect these agencies from poor planning and economic meltdown. Accountability and Reforms are needed at City Colleges, CPS, Chicago Police Dept. and at the CHA. Matter of fact, the CHA should be reconnected with Chicago and re-equipped as a City Department. To this end, the next Mayor must maintain a positive and productive relationship with the business and private sector community. We must become a town that welcomes new companies and support local enterprises. That will include ways to prepare the Greater Southside for Economic and Jobs growth along the South Lakefront, Major Expressways (Bishop Ford, Dan Ryan, I-57), Freight Routes and public transit corridors (Red Line Extension) using new concepts defined in Transit Oriented Development.

  5. 5. Linda Keane, AIA from Chicago on October 19, 2010

    Chicago's next mayor needs to continue to position Chicago as a globally green city by improving its carbon footprint through renewable energy infrastructures; increasing urban agriculture and local food production to decrease Chicago's food import; nurture Chicago's creative economy by introducing eco literacy and digital fluency to teachers and students; offering new job training opportunities for at risk populations.

  6. 6. Harold L. Lucas from Bronzeville Visitor Information Center on January 28, 2011

    The next Mayor of Chicago should investigate the failed 2016 olympic bid process and what would have occured in terms of displacing lower income African Americans from living in south lakefront communities. Also the new Mayor should open up the process of selecting the highest and best adaptive reuse for the Michael Reese hospital site since thax payers in Chicago purchased the site and all the buildings on the site for close to $100,000 million dollars. Please don't demolish anymore building on the site until public hearing can be convened on this prime sout lakefron site.

  7. 7. Kimberly Dawson from Hyde Park on February 25, 2011

    The new mayor should research the issues within the Chicago Police Department. Persons going to their Jobs and going to school are being attacked, both inside and outside of the southside properties. The response from Chicago police is that we should not say anything or that we should move. We have run out of places to move. We need an active Chicago Police Department trained properly so that they can fulfill their obligations to the taxpayers and a reduction in corrupt Police practices.

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