Our metro area was the only one of the nation's 10 largest to have lost population last year. Should we even care if we become the fourth largest U.S. city? Does it matter if we're becoming less racially and economically diverse?
Image courtesy Crain's Chicago Business via Getty Images
- By MarySue Barrett and Todd Brown, Chair of MPC's Board of Governors
- December 7, 2018
The city of Chicago has lost population each of the last three years, as have Cook County and the greater Chicago region. Our metro area was the only one of the nation’s 10 largest to have lost population last year. Should we even care if we become the fourth largest U.S. city after New York, Los Angeles and Houston? Does it matter if we’re becoming less racially and economically diverse?
As leaders of the independent Metropolitan Planning Council, our response to the 21 candidates for mayor of Chicago is an emphatic yes, it matters! In a speech emphasizing the value of reversing the population slide, one candidate set a goal of adding 300,000 people to regain that 3 million population threshold. While we may never repeat Chicagoland peak population of 3.6 million, balanced growth is a goal that every candidate for mayor or alderman can get behind.
Coordinate Neighborhood Investments: Whoever first used the phrase “spread like peanut butter across the landscape” may have had Chicago’s flat prairie topography and Byzantine political fiefdoms in mind. We are guilty of spreading a thin layer of resources across neighborhoods which are saddled with the legacy of segregation rooted in racism. And then we expect economic rebirth! If we target deep investments around anchors like hospitals, universities, and other employers, we’d see more turnarounds like Pullman’s. There are countless entrepreneurs who lack access to capital, mentors, and expertise that could catapult their small business into a larger one employing local residents.
Create Transit Oriented Development in all Neighborhoods: 42 percent of the city’s land is located within a half-mile of a Chicago Transit Authority or Metra rail station, yet miles of lots lay vacant along transit stations on the south and west side. We need policies that acknowledge the impact of segregation on local markets and provide targeted incentives that support investment in communities of color and mitigate displacement in emerging markets where low- and moderate-income residents and businesses are at risk.
Embrace Immigration: Historically, immigrants have helped fuel Chicago’s population gains, most dramatically when the 2000 Census revealed the City’s first increase in residents in 50 years, a whopping 200,000 gain thanks primarily to Mexican in-migration. Today, that trend has slowed to a trickle, due to a combination of policies emanating from the current White House and barriers to economic mobility. Rolling out the welcome mat for immigrants could include adopting a local earned income tax credit, creating universal Child Savings Accounts, and promoting the Chicago CityKey which removes barriers to accessing government services. Everyone in the state would benefit from a growing and vibrant workforce to offset retiring Baby Boomers and to strengthen the tax base.
Of course, there’s more ideas that need to be brought to the table, but there’s no better time to unite our “two cities” than now.