MarySue Barrett is a dynamic, high-energy, effective change-maker known for bringing bold ideas and diverse voices together to solve complex challenges that hold back metropolitan Chicago and other urban areas. Over her 25 years as President of the Metropolitan Planning Council, Barrett has brokered creative and systemic solutions by building trust and authentic alliances across business, government, civic, and philanthropy leaders.
Among MPC’s major achievements during Barrett’s tenure:
- Helping secure the funding and vision for the reconfiguration of South Lake Shore Drive, creating precious new public green space, known today as Chicago’s Museum Campus;
- Designing employer-assisted housing incentives offered by 70 Illinois companies to help their employees live-near-work, an initiative replicated with MPC’s help in 15 other U.S. regions in the mid-2000s;
- Launching Great Rivers Chicago in 2016, an expansive vision for our region’s 150-miles of the Chicago, Des Plaines and Calumet riverfronts to become more inviting, productive and living;
- Spearheading the Cost of Segregation study in 2017, and a 2018 Roadmap for Our Equitable Future, which prioritized two dozen near-term actions, and challenged every institution to center equity in its decision-making;
- Advocating for structural changes to who benefits from improvements in affordable housing, lead in water, urban flooding, community amenities and more, exemplified by 2019’s historic increase in transit’s share of the $45 B Rebuild Illinois package;
- Recruiting a dedicated Board and highly respected staff who together continue to deepen the organization’s commitment to diversity, inclusion, equity and accessibility and to becoming anti-racist; and
- Growing the organization from a 10-person, $1 M budget in 1996 to a 30-person, $4.3 M budget in 2021, and in 2004, raising more than $9 M for an organizational endowment.
Barrett melds her deep experience in the civic and public sectors with a knack for developing future leaders, fostering an inclusive culture of collaboration, and motivating teams toward ambitious, shared goals. Prior to leading MPC, Barrett served in former Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley's Administration for seven years, including as his Chief of Policy. Tapping her deep knowledge of government, Barrett has guided many task forces and assisted transition committees for both Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Ill. Gov. JB Pritzker.
In 2020, Ms. Barrett was a steering committee member of the City of Chicago’s Recovery Task Force, charged with surfacing strategies for a post-COVID-19 equitable recovery. She serves on the board of Current, a non-profit supporting innovative water solutions, and on the Board of Directors of IFF, a Community Development Finance Institution serving the Midwest. Barrett is a Nonresident Senior Fellow with the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution. She is also active with Leadership Greater Chicago, The Chicago Network, and the Economic Club of Chicago.
She holds a bachelor's degree from Northwestern University and enjoys public speaking and writing, such as a recent guest column in Crain’s Chicago Business titled “What we do now writes the future Chicago needs.”
Ms. Barrett lives Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood and has two college-aged children. She is thrilled to return to attending theater and dance performances and to traveling the world as a home swapper.
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Areas of expertise
- Civic innovation
- Policy strategy
- Strategic communications
- Writing and public speaking
- Advocacy and mobilization
B.S., Communications, Northwestern University