Chicago Metropolis 2020


An excerpt from
Chicago Metropolis 2020
The Chicago Plan for the Twenty-First Century
by Elmer W. Johnson


"This supple plan, a set of informed suggestions, not a blueprint for an ideal city, promises to narrow economic inequities and right the social balance in Chicago while keeping it a capitalist powerhouse, a city energized by crisis, contention, and competition. It offers no easy answers, no sweeping panaceas. . . . But it is an inspiring guide for the new century, as people everywhere seek ways to build and maintain cities that retain their humanity without losing their energy."—From the Foreword by Donald L. Miller, author of City of the Century: The Epic of Chicago and the Making of America


The Chicago Metropolis 2020 plan focuses principally on an area of 3,749 square miles of real estate covering six counties and supporting about 7.7 million people and 4.1 million jobs. The six counties are Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry, and Will. This is the area for which the Illinois General Assembly created the Northeastern Illinois Planning Commission (NIPC) in 1957 to conduct comprehensive planning.

The plan is intended to serve as a strategic guide for civic leaders who are working together to prepare metropolitan Chicago for the twenty-first century. Chicago Metropolis 2020 (Metropolis 2020) is the name of the new organization that will facilitate their joint efforts. It is described in the final chapter of this book. The goals of the plan are to enhance the economic vibrancy of the Chicago region and provide the best possible conditions of living for all its residents. The plan has no official status and is not binding on anyone. Rather, it constitutes an open invitation to residents of the region to engage in a public dialogue and to help craft solutions that refine and build on the present document's analyses and recommendations.

The recommendations are driven by a dream of what our region can become in the twenty-first century. We dream of an economically vibrant and environmentally healthy region; one whose concentrated areas of activity enable people of complementary talents to achieve high levels of creativity and productivity; a region where all persons have ready access to jobs, to housing near their jobs, and to good schools and job training; a region in which people are enabled and encouraged to find nourishment in a diversity and complexity of persons, interests, and tastes, and to enjoy an exciting array of cultural, recreational, and intellectual opportunities; and, most important, a region that undergirds strong neighborhoods, communities, and families so that they are enabled to nurture the intellectual, moral, and social development of children.

The economic and social goals embraced by this dream are closely intertwined. With a strong regional economy, we will have the resources to address the social issues. And as we succeed in putting real teeth and meaning into the ideal of equality of opportunity, we will bring about levels of human productivity and social cohesion that reinforce our economic objectives.

Why should all residents of the region be moved by such a dream? After all, those who dwell in vertically gated communities in downtown Chicago or in spacious homes in the region's many beautiful suburbs have so far been able to live good lives, free of the substantial problems that afflict those suburbs and city neighborhoods that are disadvantaged. And they are well served by a local tax and governance framework and a private transportation system that minimizes their contact with the less pleasant and more risky aspects of urban life.

There are, nevertheless, at least three reasons why all residents of the region should want to pursue such a dream.

First, it is in our near-term self-interest as interdependent residents of one region. This interdependency manifests itself in many ways. The health of every resident depends on the quality of the region's land, air, and water. It is also dependent on the major teaching hospitals that train most of the physicians and surgeons who practice in the region's hospitals. Patients from one part of the region, moreover, often depend on hospitals in another part of the region that specialize in certain surgical procedures.

City residents share a common built environment, and they enjoy suburban music festivals, forest preserves, zoos, and arboretums; and suburban residents are the region's major users of downtown Chicago's chief cultural offerings. A number of universities based in Chicago have suburban campuses that capitalize on the educational resources of the parent institutions.

Enterprises of significant size, which tend to be concentrated in a number of clusters throughout the region, are drawn to the region in order to attract employees with the diversity of skills they require. Thus, for example, 40 percent of workers in both suburban Cook and DuPage Counties live outside those counties. And the Village of Schaumburg, with over 55,000 employees, imports 84 percent of its workers from other communities. Thus, the economic vibrancy of each employment cluster depends on ready access on the part of people throughout the region to goods, services, jobs, and education.

Consider also the economic dependency between central city and suburbs. Suburban residents earn nearly $14 billion a year at jobs in Chicago, almost twice as much as Chicago residents earn in suburban jobs. At the same time, young business executives and professionals who are recruited for jobs in downtown Chicago are drawn to the region by the high quality of residential life both in Chicago's neighborhoods and in the suburbs.

The fate and future of everyone in this region is inherently connected. There is a common interest, a common good, and it cuts across municipal boundaries and binds us all into one metropolitan community. Yet, we have created an increasingly polarized society. The poor live mainly in the central city and inner suburbs, while the more affluent live chiefly in the central core of the city and in the outer suburbs. When a substantial minority of the population is shut out, isolated, and without hope, the economic and social well-being of the whole region is threatened.

Second, more than ever, regions compete against other regions. Our region competes with practically every sizeable metropolis in the nation, and increasingly in the world, based on the quality of life we offer our residents and the quality of the business environment we hold out to employers. The business corporation, in deciding where to locate a principal office or operation, is increasingly attracted by those regions that offer a large and diverse supply of highly skilled talent; frequent, direct flights to major national and international destinations; large consumer markets; a wide array of technical and professional services; efficient, world-class regional infrastructures and government services; and a strong industrial base of advanced, innovative companies.

Managerial, technical, and professional people, now more footloose than ever before, choose to live in a particular region based on the quality of the firms that are recruiting them; the quality of the region's suburbs and neighborhoods in which they can afford to reside; their proximity to high-quality medical, educational, and cultural institutions; the beauty and excitement of the central city; their access to open space and recreational amenities; and their personal safety.

Moreover, the competitiveness of the entire region will be greatly enhanced by affording the growing population of low-skill workers greater equality of educational opportunity and improved job training.

As we succeed in achieving the dream, we will position our region as one of the world's foremost competitors in the new era of global markets.

Third, and finally, it is the right thing to do. We are more than economic ants busily working on an ever-growing ant hill. Economic growth is not an end in itself and cannot be the only criterion governing our strategies for the region. In this era of unprecedented prosperity, we would be a hollow and nearsighted people indeed if we were to neglect ideals concerning human dignity and equality of opportunity, community and environmental integrity, and the ideals and civilizing purposes of a great metropolitan region. All of us should be driven, first and foremost, by these compelling moral ideals and purposes.

The Burnham Legacy

There is good precedent for placing such importance on the need for a new vision for a new century. Over the first two decades of this century, the Commercial Club worked with Daniel H. Burnham and Edward H. Bennett to develop a visionary plan for metropolitan Chicago, known as the Plan of Chicago, and then to make much of that plan a reality. That plan (the "Burnham Plan"), issued in 1909, is one of the most influential and famous city plans in world history.

The Burnham Plan, in an economically burgeoning era, focused on the theme of beauty. Jobs were the subject of the Club's effort in 1984, at a time when metropolitan Chicago lagged in the transition from a manufacturing to a service-oriented, "high-tech" economy. The plan set forth here, in the new era of competition among regions, is about the quality of life and equity of opportunity that will be required to assure the economic vitality of the Chicago region.

This plan calls for a set of public-sector interventions that are quite different from the kinds of public works programs proposed in the Burnham Plan. Our recommendations pertain in large part, but by no means wholly, to the sorts of nonphysical infrastructures that economists and philosophers, from the time of Adam Smith down to the present, have recognized as providing the indispensable background conditions for a dynamic market economy and a good society: for example, a good educational system and a fair and efficient tax system.

As in the case of the Burnham Plan, the new plan speaks not to what is achievable at the moment, but to what is vital for the long term: in short, to direct the development of the region, to paraphrase Daniel Burnham, toward an end that must seem ideal, but is practical. The plan takes stock of the strengths on which the region must build, the new opportunities that it must exploit, and the serious obstacles that must be overcome.

Building on the Region's Strengths

We are in the enviable position of building on a great legacy: the beauty of Chicago's lakefront, unique among all the cities bordering on the Great Lakes; the regional network of rivers, streams, and greenways; the quality and variety of suburban attractions such as the Brookfield Zoo, the Morton Arboretum, the Midewin Tallgrass Prairie Park, the Chicago Botanical Gardens, Ravinia Park, and the major forest preserves; the growth in recent years of suburban institutions devoted to art, music, and the theater; the extensive mass-transit infrastructure that we still enjoy; the importance of the region as the nation's single most important airline and railway hub; the excellence of the region's universities and medical institutions; the economic diversity and strength of the city and the several regional centers; the cultural vitality and architectural splendors of downtown Chicago, and the pedestrian liveliness of its streets; the enduring strength and richness of the region's ethnic neighborhoods; and the strong tradition of the region's civic associations in cooperating with political leaders to advance the common interests of all parts of the region.

One of the things that distinguishes the region from most other large metropolitan areas and accounts for many of its unique strengths is the major role played by the public sector in shaping the physical environment of downtown Chicago and the lakefront, much or most of it in pursuance of the Burnham Plan. It is naive to think that the private market, by itself, could have created a center of such beauty and vibrancy. In recent years, we have experienced something of a Burnham-like renaissance of interest in and near the lakefront: a newly transformed Navy Pier; the re-routing of Lake Shore Drive to create a campus for the three museums located on the near south side (the Field Museum of Natural History, the Shedd Aquarium, and the Adler Planetarium); the recent completion of a beautiful lighted walkway on the north side of the Chicago River, stretching from Michigan Avenue for several blocks to the east; the new site for the Museum of Contemporary Art on the near north side; a breathtaking transformation and expansion of the Chicago Symphony's concert hall and related facilities; and most recently, Mayor Daley's unveiling of a $150 million "Lakefront Millennium Project," intended to enhance park, recreation, cultural, and transportation facilities along Chicago's lakefront in the area of Grant Park.

The other development in the core area of Chicago over the last decade has been the explosion in residential development, all within a few miles of the city center. Some are newly constructed units on formerly vacant railroad yards (for example, Dearborn Park, on thirty-one acres immediately south of the Loop), or on sites where older residential or commercial buildings were torn down. Many more of the new residential units have been created by converting former office and warehouse buildings and by rehabilitating old, deteriorated residential buildings.

In some of Chicago's neighborhoods that have suffered the greatest economic deterioration, job loss, and depopulation over the last few decades—neighborhoods with high rates of crime and drug trafficking—there are examples of rejuvenation: for example, North Kenwood/Oakland and Woodlawn on the south side, North Lawndale on the west side, and Logan Square on the near northwest side. The plan places a high priority on further strengthening the community development efforts that produced much of this rejuvenation of residential and retail life.

In the suburbs, there is evidence of sensible growth policies that encourage mixed-use developments near transit and/or employment centers (for example, Arlington Heights and Naperville) and the rehabilitation of historic downtown districts (for example, Downers Grove, Lake Forest, Lockport, and Wheaton). The plan's land-use and housing policy recommendations will greatly facilitate the spread of these policies.

Finally the region's caregiving organizations, foundations, and faith-based associations are central to the region's vitality. Many of the strategies recommended in this plan are geared to the region's unique partnerships among public, private, and nonprofit sectors.

Exploiting the New Possibilities of Life in the Metropolis

Cities have always existed and flourished because proximity is a prerequisite to specialization of labor and to the sustenance of a high level of civilization. But the conditions and reasons for proximity have changed greatly. For most of the last two hundred years, the industrial revolution was the great urbanizing force in this country. Until well into the twentieth century, manufacturing and packing plants had to be located near ports and freight rail terminals in the center city, where employees were forced to work in the crowded core. This created a terrible tension between the city as economic engine and the city as center of culture, intellectual excitement, beauty, and community. Then, beginning in the prosperous 1920s, and resuming and continuing throughout the sustained period of prosperity following World War II, metropolitan regions in the United States underwent a process, unprecedented in scale, of deconcentration—decentralizing both economic activity and residential life. The factors that brought about this process are recounted in appendix B.

Does this mean that physical proximity no longer matters? Not at all. Today, information technologies have made large metropolitan areas with vital regional centers the favored location for knowledge-based industries by reason of their heavy dependence on "smart" buildings wired with high-speed communications lines and other digital amenities and their need for ready access to skilled workers, suppliers, and research universities. As Michael Porter, professor at Harvard University, has recently observed, "Cities are aligned with the nature of modern competition, with its emphasis on fluidity, information flow, and innovation. Cities are centers of knowledge and expertise, the most precious assets in the global economy."

More than ever before, talented professionals and entrepreneurs will be attracted by the region's facilities for easy networking, for its turbulence, and for its openness to new ideas. They will be drawn by the cultural richness and physical beauty of the region. And dual-career couples will be attracted by the amenities and services located in the region's high-density centers near home or work, allowing them to fulfill their household responsibilities in the most efficient manner.

For the first time since the birth of the industrial revolution, we can think and dream about cities as the philosophers of old once did. We can live and work in metropolitan areas that are healthful and neighborly and civilized. No longer must we deal with some basic conflict between the economic and social purposes of cities. We can seize the moment and begin to build transportation and communication systems and public-policy frameworks that reinforce the advantages of proximity in a multicentered metropolis.

Overcoming the Obstacles

These are exciting possibilities, but three major obstacles threaten the goals of the plan. The first concerns the need to ensure that all the region's children have access to good health care and a high-quality education from infancy to age eighteen and that all the region's adults have access to high-quality workforce development programs that will enable them to develop their skills to the fullest. The new international economic order is placing ever greater premiums on educated skills. This is an exciting development, provided we take seriously the ideal of equal opportunity.

The second obstacle is posed by the spatial transformation of the metropolis. A totally new urban form has emerged across America: a dispersed and stratified agglomeration of people that is neither village nor city. The old central city was hollowed out as middle- and upper-income households prospered and were able to realize their dream of each owning a couple of motor vehicles and living in a detached single-family home in a safe and pleasant suburb with neighbors of similar socioeconomic characteristics. Employers followed along, and sophisticated providers of goods and services created new "edge" cities where they could best cater to their segmented markets. The technological, market, and demographic forces that accounted for these new spatial patterns showed no signs of abating until the 1990s.

The benefits to the majority have been accompanied by serious costs, borne mostly by those living in distressed areas of the central city and in the worse-off suburbs. Yet, increasingly, many of the costs are being felt by the entire metropolitan region. The key problem is the bias in our governance and tax framework that often discourages localities from acting in the regional interest. This bias is exacerbated by the sheer number of autonomous governmental units in the region and the lack of a coordinating mechanism with significant authority to address regional issues.

In part, decisions as to urban form should be collective and deliberated on a metropolitan scale, rather than being wholly the inadvertent product of private-market and local zoning decisions within a flawed policy framework.

The third obstacle is posed by the high levels of concentrated poverty and racial and social segregation in our region. It is true that the size of the underclass seems to be shrinking. For example, as African Americans have succeeded in their struggle to achieve equal liberties and opportunities, they have made great progress in the workplace. Yet, the residential isolation of poor minorities has actually worsened in the last two decades.

Four out of five poor whites live in mixed-income neighborhoods within the region, but only one in five poor blacks do. The hyperconcentration of the minority poor, combined with the technological transformation of the economic order, has created levels of joblessness, social isolation, and family and community dysfunction that have severely handicapped their opportunity for a better life.

All of these challenges and opportunities cry out for the kind of plan that follows—a plan in which the region can shape and redirect its actions during the coming decades.

Copyright notice: Excerpted from pages 1-17 of Chicago Metropolis 2020: The Chicago Plan for the Twenty-First Century by Elmer W. Johnson, published by the University of Chicago Press. ©2001 by The Commercial Club of Chicago. All rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of U.S. copyright law, and it may be archived and redistributed in electronic form, provided that this entire notice, including copyright information, is carried and provided that the University of Chicago Press is notified and no fee is charged for access. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the consent of the University of Chicago Press.

Elmer W. Johnson
Chicago Metropolis 2020: The Chicago Plan for the Twenty-First Century
With a Foreword by Donald L. Miller
A project of the Commercial Club of Chicago in association with the American Academy of Arts and Sciences
©2001, 9 x 11-7/8, 192 pages, 29 color plates, 15 halftones, 5 tables
Cloth $40.00 ISBN: 0-226-40200-2

For information on purchasing the book—from bookstores or here online—please go to the webpage for Chicago Metropolis 2020: The Chicago Plan for the Twenty-First Century.

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