Twin Cities vs. Chicago: Collaboration, not competition, leads the way to success - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Twin Cities vs. Chicago: Collaboration, not competition, leads the way to success

Flickr user Minneapolis Skyline from Tower Hill Park CC

What can Chicago learn from Minneapolis about equitable growth? Find out at our Think + Drink July 14.

This post was authored by MPC Research Assistant Quentin Shipley-Mellon.

Last year, while the Chicago metro region lost 6,000 people, the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro region grew by 29,000. We’ve known about Chicagoland’s downward trend for a while, so now we’re looking for inspiration from cities such as Minneapolis to reverse this direction.

Notably, one recurring theme in the success of different cities is their levels of regional government coordination. For example, the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area is often looked to as a leader in effective regional government due to a heightened level of decision-making authority at the regional level through the Metropolitan Council.

Many credit the region’s impressive growth to their successful regional government. The city of Minneapolis grew almost five times faster than Chicago between 2010 and 2013. As Chicagoland’s growth stagnates, it’s clear that both regions have a lot to learn from one another.

Susan Haigh, formerly of the Twin Cities' Metropolitan Council

We’ll have an opportunity to trade ideas on a variety of issues at the Metropolitan Planning Council's (MPC) Urban Think & Drink on July 14. Susan Haigh, the former chair of the Twin Cities’ Metropolitan Council, will join us to talk about her region’s rapid growth and potential solutions for Chicago.

The Twin Cities’ Metropolitan Council coordinates the region’s overarching efforts in transportation, housing, water supply and parks, and drives them toward implementation. This authority structure crosses borders to prevent a messy patchwork of different solutions in different areas. The Metropolitan Council coordinates comprehensive transit-oriented development across the region, responsible growth patterns and smooth connections between different modes of transit.

In Chicago, however, we continue to wrestle with regional governance and coordination between municipalities. As a regionally focused organization, much of our work at MPC is aligned with the regional comprehensive plans GO TO 2040—and the forthcoming evolution, ON TO 2050—which the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) created as Chicagoland’s long-term plan for transportation, land use, housing and other critical components of sustainable regional growth.

Unfortunately, CMAP lacks much of the authority needed to make these plans a reality, relying instead on voluntary collaboration from local governments.

Chicagoland faces unique challenges, and without a strong regional mindset among local governments it will not see the increased efficiency, effectiveness and assurance of long-term vitality that comes from formalized cooperation.

While the Minneapolis region has benefitted from the Twin Cities’ Metropolitan Council as its regional authority, the Chicago region has depended on organizations like MPC and CMAP to develop workarounds to accomplish regional goals in the absence of a true regional authority.

The Regional Housing Initiative and Housing Choice Voucher Pilot, for instance, have become national examples of the benefits of expanded regional coordination and planning authority. Beginning in 2002, MPC partnered with the Illinois Housing Development Authority and eight regional housing authorities in Chicagoland on the Regional Housing Initiative, a strategy to improve low-income families’ affordable housing options. The program, now under the guidance of CMAP, has expanded to 11 housing authorities.

As with many housing programs, this initiative works using Housing Choice Vouchers, which allow recipients of housing assistance to live in ”opportunity areas,” places with good schools and easy access to public transit and jobs.

The difference between traditional voucher programs and the Regional Housing Initiative, however, is that these 11 housing authorities share funding for the whole region, rather than having different sized chunks of funding going to different authorities. Families with vouchers can move anywhere within the participating communities.

For example, as this Atlantic piece details, the Boyd family moved out of Chicago to the affluent northern suburb of Glenview, where they were able to take advantage of many benefits, including good schools.

This type of regional collaboration not only addresses equity issues, but also serves as an efficient use of funds. It contributes to the region’s long-term vitality and increased flexibility in adapting to the changing housing market and economic climate, compared with current federal funding policy.

Rather than competition, collaboration leads the way to success.

Chicagoland is not the only one tackling such a challenge, however. Eleven metro regions across the country are putting forth efforts on the same issue of affordable housing. One of these is our booming neighbor to the north, the Twin Cities metro region, where the Metropolitan Council guides the Community Choice program, an initiative that has helped 45 families in the search for better living opportunities since its launch in December 2015.

Similar to those participating in Chicagoland’s Regional Housing Initiative, families in the Community Choice Program work with counselors to plan their best path forward, working to improve their financial situations and set goals for their futures. The program also pushes families to create connections in their new communities through activities like volunteering. 

In many ways, the Metropolitan Council is CMAP’s counterpart in the Twin Cities, coordinating a region-wide approach to many of the same topics we deal with in Chicagoland. Both organizations understand that challenges (and solutions) in transportation, housing, water and parks can transcend borders—rain, for example, doesn’t fall only in one municipality. With that in mind, we need more solutions, such as the Regional Housing Initiative, that encourage municipalities and government agencies to work together for a better future.

If you’re interested in joining this discussion, don’t forget to register to join MPC and Susan Haigh on July 14th. With libations from Revolution Brewing, the evening event—one of MPC’s Growing Cities Urban Think & Drink series—promises lively conversation and a great time. Come join us for a drink and some inspiration!

Register today >>


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For more than 85 years, the Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) has partnered with communities, businesses, and governments to unleash the greatness of the Chicago region. We believe that every neighborhood has promise, every community should be heard, and every person can thrive. To tackle the toughest urban planning and development challenges, we create collaborations that change perceptions, conversations—and the status quo. Read more about our work »

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