In June, MPC President MarySue Barrett had the opportunity to speak in São Paulo, Brazil, at the New Cities Summit, joining some 1,000 decision-makers from around the globe for action-oriented debate on this year’s theme: “The Human City.”
The conference as a whole—and Barrett’s panel on urban mobility—focused on how to create metropolitan regions and urban systems that improve the human experience. It’s an increasingly compelling question: By 2030, more than 60 percent of the world’s population will live in cities; here in metropolitan Chicago, we’re expecting 25 percent population growth, or an additional 2.4 million people, by 2040.
During the New Cities conference, Monocle, a UK-based media outlet, interviewed Barrett for The Urbanist, their radio program. The reporter picked up on the summit’s theme, noting that some cities, including Chicago, are leading by example. He posited Chicago as “one of the very few urban centers in the U.S. that has earned an international reputation without being on one of the country’s two coasts,” and he asked Barrett the (leading) question, “How has the Windy City been able to blow its competitors away?”
Barrett gamely cataloged some of metropolitan Chicago’s finer qualities: our cultural scene, architecture, Lake Michigan and the intangible “vibrancy” that draws new residents, businesses and tourists to our region every year. She also cited the region’s unusually high level of business and civic engagement as a major plus. “There’s not a sense of defeatism,” she said. “We don’t always solve our problems, but there’s a real sense of constant reinvention and rebirth, so that the city as it looked 10 years ago or 50 years ago is not the same city that Chicago is—and of course that’s true for our region as well.”
To be sure, Chicago isn’t without its challenges, noted Barrett. “Sector by sector and indicator by indicator” Chicago’s economic outlook has flagged since the early 2000s, well before the recession, Barrett pointed out, citing the McKinsey analysis that led in 2012 to World Business Chicago’s Plan for Economic Growth and Jobs. The plan and the actions it has generated are what makes Barrett confident that Chicago will continue to be a global leader: While the city is faced with daunting economic challenges, and related issues like traffic congestion, we’re addressing these issues head-on. She noted that the Plan for Economic Growth and Jobs has rallied city and civic leaders to advance Chicago’s economy with creative thinking and new solutions, and cited as examples new Bus Rapid Transit routes, Chicago’s summer debut of the bike share program Divvy, and continued exploration of variable priced tolling on the Jane Adams Expressway.
If there’s a “secret sauce” to the world’s most successful cities and region, it is that they are constantly reinventing themselves, adapting not only to new economic realities but also to people’s changing lifestyle and career preferences. Good, inclusive planning – or the “art of what’s possible,” which is what MPC works on each day – is integral. “Plans help give voice to the best emerging ideas and actually meld together the power of creative ideas of the private sector, of neighborhood leaders and of government,” she said. “Places that have a strong tradition of running with their plans and making sure that they evolve are the places that will succeed globally.”
Listen to Barrett’s remarks online, starting at minute 19:20.
On Sept. 10, in Toronto, Canada, Barrett will continue this discussion about what Chicago and other regions can and must do to reinvent themselves at Meeting of the Minds, a conference that brings together opinion-shapers and policy-makers from every sector to exchange ideas for more sustainable cities.