Monday, February 3, 2014

Treasuring a Moment

"Washington's legacy was more incremental and rhetorical than transformational."

D. Bradford Hunt and John B. DeVries, Planning Chicago, Chapter 6, Chicago's Equity Planning Moment.

That's probably right, although the authors note many Chicagoans still mourn the passing of this equity moment. The breadth of Washington's reform agenda was certainly transformational. Are cities and regions still grappling with employment equity issues? What cities have tilted economic development towards a more balanced approach. And there was simply too little time.  Maybe the old adage ruled in the end, "Chicago ain't ready for reform."

A few contrasting perspectives from a participant.

1. Chicago's planned Worlds Fair collapsed as much from its own bloated design and wrong-headed feasibility assumptions. And it never got the undivided support from developers who were already building like mad. Washington may have taken the ultimate blame for not going along with this CEO pipedream, but a closer look shows the wonderful story of citizen planners at work. And Chicago didn't learn -- witness the Olympics.

2. Linked Development was initially pushed by a coalition of white ethnic neighborhoods on the southwest and northwest sides (SUN/SOC) who felt their communities were changing and disconnected from the benefits of downtown development. So, there was a political dimension to looking closely at this set of policy options.  First Source hiring was closer to the Washington agenda and faired a little better.

3. Downtown boomed and many large downtown-related infrastructure projects moved forward or got underway -- the Midway "El," a round of planning for Navy Pier, continued south and north Loop redevelopment. Architects, planners, and developers kept busy.

4. The Washington Papers called for neighborhood planning boards. This proposal went nowhere. Rob Mier preferred a flexible, strategic, opportunistic approach -- and thus supported local community organizations. There were certainly political worries as well.  I think he would have liked LISC's New Communities Program

5. The Washington years upset some liberal Chicago critics and urban observers like John McCarron, formerly of the Tribune. His "Chicago on Hold" series was more peeve than substance but conveyed a mentality quite prevalent for survivors during the reign of Daley 2.

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