Friday, September 21st, 2012

Some Additional Chicago Fixes

This article is part of the State of Chicago series.

At this point in my series, I want to highlight a few areas I’ve mostly written about elsewhere in detail, so will not repeat in full as posts in their own right.

1. Fix the Fiscal mess. The changes at the city level are a nice start, but there’s a long way to go. The state of Illinois has done little to address the structural problems it faces. With the worst finances in the nation at present, this item is critical.

2. Changing the Culture. I’ve written before about Chicago’s culture of clout. That is, Chicago has a unitary power nexus centered around the mayor’s office, and personal influence – guanxi if you will – is how things get done. This has been a positive in some respects in that it enables the city to get things done. Unfortunately, it doesn’t just matter if you can get things done, it also matters what it is that you do. And how you get things done ultimately matters as well. Cultural change is an imperative here.

3. Professional Services 2.0. I believe that Chicago should seek to (at least in part) look to reframe its economic development around its structural advantages. Centrality is one of these, for example. The biggest plank here is Professional Services 2.0 – figuring out how Chicago can dominate the next generation of professional services.

4. Infrastructure. Addressing the region’s infrastructure gap is key. From a transport perspective this means most importantly 1) finishing off the Red Line L reconstruction on the North Side, 2) completing the O’Hare Modernization Plan in a timing consistent with market realities – and on no account building a new major greenfield airport and 3) finishing off the CREATE project among other things needed to unclog the horrible rail bottlenecks in Chicago. Also, I believe the Chicago River needs to be re-reversed, and the watershed systems re-separated. This is needed to stop the Asian carp invasion among other things. All of these are very costly and I won’t pretend to know where the money will come from. But they are long term major projects needed for the region.

Topics: Economic Development, Strategic Planning, Urban Culture
Cities: Chicago

6 Responses to “Some Additional Chicago Fixes”

  1. Peter Skosy says:

    You had me untl the river reversal.

  2. Anthony Gary says:

    I’m also curious about the river reversal. I’m not seeing the drastic benefits. Would you mind elaborating?

  3. The reversal of the Chicago River flow would never be permitted today. The current configuration puts the Great Lakes at high risk of ecosystem destruction by invasive species, i.e. the Asian carp. Also, the locks are still opened semi-regularly and raw sewage dumped into the lake, so it isn’t even keeping waterways clean.

  4. James says:

    By reversing the river I assume you mean not just allowing the Chicago river to flow into Lake Michigan but filling in the ten miles of man made canals connecting the Chicago river (and thus the Great Lakes) to the Des Plaines river and the Mississippi. Is that correct? Also, do you have any evidence that raw sewage is dumped into the river? That seems to be a violation of several EPA regulations as well as the clean water act.

  5. Raw sewage not only goes into the river, it still goes into the lake during heavy rains. Usually it happens it gets mentioned in the paper. Here’s an example talking about it:

  6. jmogs says:


    Delighted to see your reference to the Chicago Waterways! So often the debate has been framed in carp vs. barges terms. Your frame is right on—they are a huge commercial opportunity, but not as currently configured. Dealing the with threat of the carp likely also offers an opportunity to modernize the waterways and better connect them with existing transportation infrastructure so that more than the current 1% of goods moving through Chicagoland have an opportunity to be floated and help reduce congestion. Sadly, industry interests are dragging their feet in hopes of maintaining the untenable status quo.

    As for waste in the water, there is good news. The regional water authority (after the longest case in the history of the Illinois Pollution Board) has agreed to stop dumping undisinfected effluent into the river. While that is great news, you still need to slow your roll on a re-reversal anytime soon due to the century+ worth of heavy metals, PCBs and the like in sediments at the bottom of the River.

    Still, great minds are looking at the issue. Here is the great book created by MacArthur Genius architect Jeanne Gang in partnership with the Natural Resources Defense Council on the subject:

The Urban State of Mind: Meditations on the City is the first Urbanophile e-book, featuring provocative essays on the key issues facing our cities, including innovation, talent attraction and brain drain, global soft power, sustainability, economic development, and localism. Included are 28 carefully curated essays out of nearly 1,200 posts in the first seven years of the Urbanophile, plus 9 original pieces. It's great for anyone who cares about our cities.

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Aaron M. Renn is an opinion-leading urban analyst, consultant, speaker, and writer on a mission to help America’s cities thrive and find sustainable success in the 21st century.

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