Politics + Projects = Planning……And The Deal Beyond Daley
Chicago has trouble beating its rap portrayed in the popular media these days. So do the Daleys. Three books give a balanced description of what The Daley Years got done, focusing on the son’s service as Mayor from 1989 to 2011. By reviewing these books in context, this essay suggests that two key tasks in completing Chicago’s transformation — revitalized poorer neighborhoods and improved transit — requires sacrifice from taxpayers and a new deal.
This Belt reveals how most manufacturing-based cities built their second generation residential neighborhoods; segregating filthy factories from the homes that are the primary reward for working in those factories. The story of these cities’ neighborhoods span a century: from their rapid growth ending abruptly in the Great Depression and followed by decades of decline. Some of these neighborhoods participated sketchily in the recent urban resurgence that ended in today’s lingering real estate depression.
As the weakest link, Chicago’s Bungalow Belt is a focus of future challenges and we will return to it at key points in this essay.
While interpreting the importance of these three books and drawing analogies to your city, I suggest a city’s size is less important than the patterns of how politics guide projects and how they come to resemble long-range plans…if we do things right. Since Chicago partially completed some long-range plans, other cities also get take-aways from these books.
“First Son: The Biography of Richard M. Daley”
by Keith Koeneman
University of Chicago Press, April 2013
The first biography on Chicago’s recently retired mayor of 22 years, “First Son” is an important book for two related reasons. First, Daley’s positive impact on American cities will become clearer as historians such as Koeneman assess his legacy in balance. Chicago’s media trivialized Daley’s reign; neglecting to explain sufficiently how the city improved and the tough choices a mayor must make. Also beyond mass media, historians will sort out how much of Chicago’s progress resulted from the market redeveloping undervalued land and how much came from Daley’s strong will.
Chicago’s storyline changes starting with this book. Now, historians will build upon “First Son” and explain how Richard M. Daley surpassed even what boosters hoped for when he became mayor in 1989. He was the central force in reversing rapid decline in the nation’s largest manufacturing center and converting it into a global city. He started by righting government in the wake of bitter racial battles and attacked policy failures in housing and education. After cleaning those stables, other feats prepared Chicago for the new century; showing there was life after post-industrial calamity.
When someone such as Daley exceeds where many other mayors have fallen short, urbanists should understand why. This first biography helps give us perspective that other histories will develop further: Daley’s impact on other cities and national politics. My top example lists Daley as one of the most notable Democratic politicians to grapple with what I call a “taxpayers’ silent rebellion.” Daley repeatedly stated that taxpayers wouldn’t pay more and his goal almost daily sought to improve efficiencies so taxpayers got better value. Also sketching the Big Picture of the nation’s evolution, historians will notate how Daley’s advisors became the President’s and started a federal urban policy more suited to what I call the “sustainable century.”
The second and corollary importance of this book is its impressive details that break down the superficial image that Daley was all-powerful and replaces it with the chaotic crazy-quilt of uncooperative demands that are driving Chicago — and most cities — into insolvency. While reading through this book’s array of political intrigue, I am amazed that Daley achieved what he did.
This book confirms for me that local government does not have the integrity or tools to lead a broad-based revitalization that includes cities’ bungalow-like belts. Given the complexities and institutional intransigence that we allow to infect our local governments, cities currently cannot evolve to their potential.
Hence… urbanism’s potential also is undercut if it does not help reform and simplify governments for sustainability.
Beyond the scope of this book (but hopefully not beyond the next history written), broken governments best explains why Daley did not get some things done. Having spent his authority on politics’ myriad conflicts without achieving reform, Daley could not cure the City’s fiscal condition.
My take-away from “First Son” reinforces what I’ve said in other pieces for “The Urbanophile”: Rahm’s campaign promise for fiscal sustainability only overcomes intractable insolvency if we return to the populist truth: “everyone does better when everyone does better.” Only when citizens believe they have a chance to more forward, will they pay higher taxes and, then, the City can pay its bills and meet obligations. While Daley’s service is an overall triumph, the inability to reform antiquated politics left Chicago peering at a potentially tragic precipice.
“Chicago From The Sky”
by Lawrence Okrent
Chicago’s Books Press, 2012
If you want to see Chicago just before Richard M. Daley came to office and compare it to when he left… if you need to jog your memory about how land use evolves… if you want to see better how Chicago’s transformation has lessons elsewhere… or if the seemingly endless tedium and timeframes for redeveloping real estate needs the visual inspiration that the end result is really worth the headaches… then, you have found your book. And all that, at 49 bucks, is a deal.
As a planner and real estate consultant, the author took 200+ photo flights over Chicago between 1985 to 2010. Sorting through some 25,000 of his photos and evaluating some 3,000 postcards and the photos of others, the author organizes an excellent exhibition. Selecting before-and-after photos usually with the same angle, this urban evolution is easier to track. Blending his planner’s training and his interest in architecture, the author’s informative captions complete the significance of the selected photos. Best yet, the author maintains objectivity; not letting his love for Chicago interfere with showing redevelopment’s rocky road.
Because the most dramatic changes were in Chicago’s downtown, this book is thorough and devotes 100 pages to the transformation of the nation’s manufacturing HQ center into a global center. An additional 78 pages show the less dramatic changes — though still substantial — in several Chicago neighborhoods. However, most photos portray projects of government, universities, museums, hospitals or cultural institutions. Some 15 of these 78 pages show neighborhoods of mostly new construction; most of which are repurposed from old warehouse districts or freight yards or the horrible mistakes of mid-Century public housing. Note that these areas are pre-Roaring Twenties and are inside the Bungalow Belt.
Several reasons suggest why this book is weighted toward large corporations and institutions that do large projects: they are easily photographed from an airplane; many are clients of the author; and, most important, it was easier for the Daley Administration to do big deals because that is how government is tooled; unlike when small entrepreneurs built the Bungalow Belt.
Tellingly of its 242 pages of photos, “Above Chicago” offers only a baker’s dozen photos of the Bungalow Belt. In direct contrast to the new construction in repurposed inner city areas, photos of the Belt show small scatterings of new construction that are mostly limited to thoroughfares on Chicago’s predominantly white north side. Of course, no book can take us from the bird’s eye view to traveling the streets of Chicago’s long-suffering neighborhoods on the west and south sides. But, those streets tell us that Chicago’s dramatic transformation is not complete. Our next book helps us understand why this matters and, partly, why these neighborhoods got left behind.
by D. Bradford Hunt and Jon DeVries
Planners Press, 2013
Here is what this book helped me synthesize: Richard J. Daley was a master planner; and 45 years after Chicago’s last Comprehensive Plan in 1966, his son had done enough deals that the old man’s plans, roughly, got done. I consider this one of the great team efforts in the constant struggle to remake cities for the new era.
“Planning Chicago” details the evolution of planning in Chicago from the creation of the Department of City Planning in 1957 and describes several decades of key decisions. All types of planning activities are reviewed including central area plans, neighborhood initiatives, city industrial policies, and transportation. The narrative is accompanied by over 100 graphics including maps, plans, and photos.
For these and other reasons, this book deserves a review by itself. It is so rich in its detail and so broad in its critique of Chicago’s planning and the implications of its prescriptions run so deep, I regret only having space to summarize three key points that feed this essay’s bottom lines.
1. Incomplete Redevelopment Has Consequences: A Weak Tax Base. Reinforcing my conclusions from the previous two books, this third book rounds-out the analysis that the Daley-led redevelopment of Chicago is not complete. This book distinguishes clearly between how Daley made the downtown look good (Millennium Park, streets with more planters and trees) and that the consequences of superficiality show up elsewhere… and often.
Look at the chapter on “The Lost Decade” and its analysis of Chicago’s weak 21st Century economic statistics; of which population and job losses are prominent. While downtown deals make great photos, many neighborhoods and the city’s mass tax base often were neglected. Illustrating this growing weakness, page 270 shows income change during that first decade.
As its multi-benefit, redevelopment reduces both social costs to citizens and social service expenses in the City budget. This book understands practical value, transcending the intractable argument between downtown boosters and neighborhood equity advocates.
Bottom-line: redevelopment must build a broader tax base and reduce social costs.
2. TIFs Have Consequences: Weak Strategic Action. This book’s chief criticism is Chicago slipped into ad-hoc planning. The most obvious example is the proliferation of 151 TIF districts. While well-intentioned to solve needs of individual neighborhoods, aldermanic privilege for zoning changes has given 50 alderman leverage to demand TIF deals that often do not support citywide strategies.
TIFs are now the City’s primary source of capital spending. Untested during a period of depressed real estate values, TIFs are too many eggs in an unproven basket. And not only do TIFs have a limited future to help redevelopment, they undermine the public’s faith in government since these public dollars are invested with minimal public discussion to maximize public return. While the Emanuel Administration is working on this: decisions largely are still made between the Mayor’s Office, the Alderman and the developer… with half of the money going to the private sector…. with at least some of that going back to boost reelection campaigns.
Bottom-line: citizens and taxpayers need an alternative to TIFs.
3. Debt Has Consequences: Broke Until A New Deal. The book also illustrates that the average debt per Chicagoan grew from $600 in 1991 to $2600 in 2011, or an increase of 433% in actual dollars. Servicing that debt now eats up almost 25% of the city’s budget. Fiscally unsustainable; but worse, taxpayers have to pay this debt and they won’t because they are fed up.
Bottom-line: This debt won’t be paid and government will not give taxpayers good value unless leaders produce a justification for taxpayers to invest in the future.
As convincing as this book’s argument is for Chicago to update its planning practice significantly so it can allocate limited resources better for the 21st Century, the book leaves its technical vein and addresses the clogged artery by concluding that solutions ultimately are a question of political will. Since we are responsible for this democratic semblance of government, I only can agree.
Beyond The Daley Deals: A Conclusion And A Beginning
Speaking above citizen complaints, all three books indicate that Daley left Chicago in a substantially better space than where it was headed in 1989. Yet, clearly much remains before completing this transformation. Global centers have better transit. Nor can global centers be sustained successfully if 20% of the city’s neighborhoods are poverty traps and their social problems prevent the city from balancing its books and meeting other obligations.
So for answers, let’s review when neighborhoods were balanced and people believed government would help them and when poverty was treated as an opportunity instead of a trap. Let’s symbolically return to that bungalow the first Daley built (pictured on below.)
For background, Dominic Pacyga (a leading historian of Chicago neighborhoods) co-edited a book along with Charles Shanabruch, the Executive Director of the Chicago Bungalow Foundation, that was a lead participant in Rich Daley’s multi-program quest to save and update this housing type. Mr. Pacyga contributed a chapter entitled “Movin’ on Up: Chicago’s Bungalow Belt and The American Dream.” It, too, is worth a read.
As a masterful politician in his own right, Rich Daley knew the symbolism in governing with a social contract. But, he also learned in his last term how hard it is to govern well once that contract is broken. Without a deal, Daley knew that taxpayers would not step up. As such, city efficiencies and user fees were his best chance to keep Chicago solvent.
When those tactics failed and the City’s finances deteriorated into indelible red ink, much has been blamed on Daley… fairly or not. But, all would be better if Daley instead broke his mold and started his last great initiative by admitting: “We’re broke. And before taxpayers bailout the city, I promise these political reforms so that fiscal failure does not repeat.” Then, popular opinion — and certainly history — could give the praise he deserves for starting Chicago’s transformation.
Robert Munson sharpened his interest in regional planning while serving on the Citizens Advisory Committee for the metropolitan plan released in 2010. Out of that experience, he started the website CCC or Chicagoland Citizens Central where you can find his profile. Readers can contact him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.