I want to start off by giving a big shout out to my readers in Iraq. I hope you like what you're reading as much as I like writing it. Second, I would like to remind all of you that if you have a picture you'd like to have featured as the "picture of the week," please email to me in .jpg form to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please make sure to include your name and where you're from, fully identify the image (name of the place, the location, and if known, the designer), and your email address. The pictures must be related to architecture, historic preservation, urban planning and design. No selfies, party, or vacation pictures please. Thanks. Now onto today's topic, urban planning in the era of income inequality.
Over a century ago, architect and urban planner Daniel Burnham laid out the physical future of the city of Chicago, Illinois. He intended to design in social remedies for what ailed the city in the early twentieth century but failed to carry out these prescriptions. Today, the "City of Broad Shoulders," like many cities across the United States, is confronting education failures, unemployment, crime, and related issues creating the city's fourth great urban crisis in 176 years. Chicago Tribune editorial page editor Bruce Dold, in his column, "A new Plan for Chicago: A challenge to Tribune readers," recently invited readers and organizations to finish the work begun by Daniel Burnham, address the perilous state of livability, income disparity, and strained public finances that have driven Chicagoans to leave the city by the hundreds of thousands. The column is the first of a planned series of articles aimed to explore how Chicago can survive and thrive over the course of time. To echo the famous Daniel Burnham quote, "Make no little plans."
|The Chicago Skyline|
The first thing that comes to mind when using the phrase "urban crisis" together with Chicago is the Great Fire of 1871. The wind-driven fire that ignited in October 1871, incinerated most to the city, leaving residents, whose homes and livelihoods were torched slept on whatever patch of ground wasn't burnt, anxiously dreading the coming Winter weather. Other crises build up slowly. The Great Migration in early twentieth century Chicago, which brought Southern African-Americans to a place that, on the one hand, welcomed them and their contributions while on the other hand resisted their geographical movements. By the late-twentieth century a relative state of calm will evolve in Chicago after a period riots, redlining, more fires, white, and racial tension.
The symptoms of the current crisis that confront Chicago are apparent to all the residents of metropolitan Chicago, however, they see them a neat little separate compartments, unaware that these symptoms are intertwined. This relationship now threatens the city core so much so that numbers of residents have already abandoned Chicago for someplace more livable. According to Mr. Dold, "The purpose of the editorial series that launches today, and of the accompanying request for proposals from the Tribune readers, is to imagine new ways of storming not just one silo but all of them." Interesting proposition. Who best to offer up solutions for what challenges the city faces than its own residents. Perhaps, the Tribune might take a different tack and solicit proposals from outside Chicago? The following is Mr. Dold's outline of issues that face the city:
|Aerial view of Chicago's Southside|
Blue-Collar Jobs? If only mayors and other officials tried they could bring back the bygone days days of Chicago's industrial glory days, yes? No. Rarely can we admit how unprepared a downwardly mobile portion of our population is even have a reasonable chance at the jobs available today. This is one reason potential employers look elsewhere and why young people don't have the same opportunities previous generations took for granted. This is related to the poor schooling which all but negates any sense of readiness and employability in, hold on, the factory and comparable employment opportunities that require a certain levels of literacy. The consequence of this situation is that so many adults have been forced out of the labor market or yielded their job because of the lack of education and a felony-free record that would preclude their hiring.
The Parents, the pastors, the pillars of the neighborhood? Why don't our community leaders do something about the problems in the streets, the young people who, wait for it, don't go to school or who, wait, don't get jobs? Chicago has great tracts where too many young single moms are overwhelmed and the dads are nowhere to be seen. Said vast tracts of the urban landscape are home to dysfunctional schools, long gone jobs, and terrifying violence which have driven away or dissolved households that were the city's foundation. Being a parent means having the responsibility of raising another human being who will be educated, self-disciplined, responsible, diligent, health, and ultimately self-supporting. Bruce Dold makes this observation, "Does it surprise us that so many single parents don't have the skills, the drive, the time and money to give their children the uplift that every parent wants and every child needs.
|Aerial view of downtown Chicago|
Nevertheless, Chicago doesn't have the money to meet these challenges. Like many municipalities indebted to their state and the federal government, Chicago has expenses and future obligations that City Hall can't meet. Government wages scales and pension benefits haven't been able been able to keep up with rising costs. Chicago, in short, is traveling on the same path to financial hardship as Detroit, St. Louis, Philadelphia. Cleveland and other cities trapped in the morass. Yet, all is not lost for Chicago. Despite the fact that many of Chicago's residents have found the city so untenable and walked away from it, inward migration no longer offsets the abandonment of the region's central city. The crime, dysfunctional schools, neighborhoods in need of leadership figures, the job market for those with a high-school education are what's driving people away. What comes next is a holistic way to remedy the situation.
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