Planning Chicago
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Planning Chicago

D. Bradford Hunt, Jon DeVries

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eBook - ePub

Planning Chicago

D. Bradford Hunt, Jon DeVries

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In this volume the authors tell the real stories of the planners, politicians, and everyday people who shaped contemporary Chicago, starting in 1958, early in the Richard J. Daley era. Over the ensuing decades, planning did much to develop the Loop, protect Chicago's famous lakefront, and encourage industrial growth and neighborhood development in the face of national trends that savaged other cities. But planning also failed some of Chicago's communities and did too little for others. The Second City is no longer defined by its past and its myths but by the nature of its emerging postindustrial future.

This volume looks beyond Burnham's giant shadow to see the sprawl and scramble of a city always on the make. This isn't the way other history books tell the story. But it's the Chicago way.

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Part 1

Figure I.1 (previous spread) Chicago, looking northeast, June 25, 2012
Figure I.1. (previous spread) Chicago, looking northeast, June 25, 2012

Chapter 1
Planning The “Chicago Way”

Between 1950 and 1983, Chicago’s future was much in doubt. The rhetoric of planning explained some of the many forces that threatened the city’s strength: “blight” and “slums” spread like tumors in the 1950s and 1960s; “white flight” and “deindustrialization” bled the city of people and jobs. Chicago lost nearly 22 percent of its population between 1960 and 1990, and poverty skyrocketed. In 1980, The Economist surveyed Chicago and labeled it “The City That Survives,” taking a glass half-full approach, while the Chicago Tribune was less confident, running a 1981 series by Richard Longworth called “City on the Brink” that bluntly described the city’s trajectory:
The City of Chicago has become an economic invalid. The condition may be permanent—unless the people responsible for its economic future can reverse the long, steady, and seemingly endless slide. … Chicago’s basic problem is that it is losing industries, stores and jobs. Because of this it is losing tax money. Because of this, it won’t be able to support itself, to pay for the services of a going city. … Business moves away. So do the best young people. The population ages. The city becomes a backwater.”
Longworth interviewed various urbanists and concluded, “The cycle has been going on for twenty years. …There is no reason to think it will ever turn around.”1
Figure 1.1 Chicago’s skyline from the John Hancock Observatory, August 9, 2010
Figure 1.1. Chicago’s skyline from the John Hancock Observatory, August 9, 2010
But Chicago pulled out of the downward spiral that devastated Detroit, Cleveland, and St. Louis, among others. The city rebounded from the depths of the 1981–82 recession, embarked on a downtown office construction boom, and made the postindustrial turn. Business service sectors grew, resulting in a downtown office market that added one to two million square feet per year over extended periods and captured at least 50 percent of regional office growth, second only to New York. Highly educated “creative class” workers—to borrow Richard Florida’s term—found employment in the city and had the income and inclination to live and play near downtown as well.2 New housing sprouted, working-class neighborhoods gentrified, and a vibrant restaurant scene emerged. Expanded cultural institutions, universities, and convention facilities followed. Tourists from around the world flocked to Millennium Park, the city’s eclectic, crowd-pleasing cultural playground. By any measure, Chicago’s central area had staged a remarkable renaissance by the beginning of the 21st century. In 2006, The Economist offered an updated profile that glowed, calling Chicago a “Success Story … a city buzzing with life, humming with prosperity, sparkling with new buildings, new sculptures, new parks, and generally exuding vitality.”3
By the early 21st century, Chicago had joined a short list of what are now known as “global cities.” A 2012 survey by the consulting firm A. T. Kearney ranked Chicago seventh (after New York, London, Tokyo, Paris, Hong Kong, and Los Angeles), on the basis of its capital markets, trade, human capital, and cultural experiences.4 The city’s commodity exchanges, transportation hubs, and top-flight universities contribute to the high ranking. Once a regional manufacturing powerhouse and center of a Midwest agro-industrial empire, Chicago had adapted to the postindustrial economy and become one of the “ports of the global age,” as A. T. Kearney defines global cities, one that helps “run the global economy and influence its direction.” From landing the Boeing corporate headquarters (2002) to building Millennium Park (2004) and despite losing an Olympic bid (2009), Chicago has arrived on the world stage in ways that its onetime Rust Belt peers Detroit, St. Louis, and Cleveland can only dream of.5
This is the dominant narrative of the state of the city over the past decades. But not all is well in Chicago. Deindustrialization had devastating effects on manufacturing employment and, by extension, working-class neighborhoods. When the city’s giant steel mills closed, an entire way of life vanished. The loss of blue-collar employment, coupled with long-standing race and class divides, produced what sociologist William Julius Wilson called “the truly disadvantaged,” a population of mostly poor, young, disproportionately African American residents disconnected from mainstream work and family norms. Without work opportunity, an underground illicit economy replaced the legitimate one. The crack cocaine epidemic peaked in the mid-1990s, as did the city’s homicide rate. Large public housing projects became notorious, neglected spaces before being demolished and their residents largely dispersed into other poor neighborhoods. Even those who invested in their communities often struggled: a wave of predatory lending followed by a housing boom and bust in the past decade led to widespread foreclosures, housing abandonment, and demolition. The downtown experienced a renaissance, but many neighborhoods remain mired in poverty. This contrast continues to haunt the city—and the planners who seek to enable its future health and success.6
Figure 1.2 Foreclosed homes in the Englewood neighborhood of Chicago, December 1, 2012
Figure 1.2. Foreclosed homes in the Englewood neighborhood of Chicago, December 1, 2012
Planners have long sought to shape and reshape Chicago’s built environment. Frederick Law Olmsted laid out a network of parks in the 1860s and platted one of the city’s first suburbs, Riverside. Daniel Burnham and Edward Bennett’s 1909 Plan of Chicago represented the height of the City Beautiful movement and delivered to residents a useable lakefront and visions of expansive possibilities. Mies van der Rohe and Walter Gropius bestowed Bauhaus modernism on the city in the 1940s, designed a radically mod-a radically modernist campus plan for the Illinois Institute of Technology, and sketched out the wholesale rebuilding of Chicago’s South Side. Planning and Chicago have a storied past.
But planning became more contentious in the second half of the 20th century. Deindustrialization, suburbanization, and racial change destabilized a city that had already seen its building stock and infrastructure neglected during a Depression and a world war. Chicago’s future, like that of other cities, was unclear. Federal policy offered urban renewal funds and planning grants, and in 1957 Chicago responded with the creation of a new Department of City Planning, which wrote and implemented major plans that transformed much of the city—particularly the central area. These efforts laid the groundwork for the revival of the office market, the launching of new downtown residential communities, and the protection of the city’s natural amenities.
A “growth coalition” also reorganized in the postwar years, as in most U.S. cities, to promote redevelopment, boost economic growth, and fend off decline. Chicago’s coalition included a wide range of interests, including downtown corporations, real estate developers, cultural institutions, politicians, and professional planners. It sought to use the city’s new planning and development tools to defend the downtown from various perceived threats, including rapid suburbanization, creeping “blight,” and racial change. It latched on to public subsidies to jump-start urban rebuilding, and it promoted civic spectacles such as world’s fairs and Olympic games as a way to boost the city’s growth and enhance its global reputation.
The growth coalition’s agenda often met resistance, however. Resentment among those displaced by highways and urban renewal in the 1950s and 1960s eventually led to the restraint of those programs. Community organizers criticized grand plans for the central area while neighborhood needs were left neglected, sparking an “equity planning” movement in Chicago in the 1980s. More recently, developer-led gentrification is seen as a threat by some, and the city’s Tax Increment Financing (TIF) policies have become a lightning rod for debates about the distribution of resources. As will be seen, resistance from “the neighborhoods” against “downtown,” as the conflict is often formulated, played a significant role in limiting the reach of the growth coalition. The neighborhoods, however, could not seriously threaten the political and market forces driving development.
Moreover, as the mayoralty of Richard M. Daley (in office 1989–2011) progressed, planning power increasingly centralized in city hall, with the mayor and aldermen becoming the arbiters of development. Daley certainly understood that growth was a political imperative, as only an enlarged tax base could fund the services—streets, sewers, libraries, police officers, schools—essential to reelection. But the direction of that growth, the boundaries around it, and the resources dedicated to enhancing it, were all negotiable.
This book explores these negotiations, wrestling with the plans, policies, and choices that shaped the outcomes we see today. It examines the context of planning decisions, the power wielded, and the alternatives not taken. It focuses on planning as an executive function in Chicago, one that came into the contemporary era with the creation of the Department of City Planning in 1957 and then expanded its reach and influence. We explore all scales of planning, from large-scale comprehensive plans to economic development initiatives to neighborhood improvement ideas. Civic associations, local foundations, transportation agencies, community groups, regional bodies, and the business community have all planned as well, but we pay the most attention to the pivotal role of city government in guiding, and often not guiding, the arc of public discourse and action in the planning of our shared environment. Our narrative is short on technical details but long on the actors, forces, and ideas in planning over the past 50 years in Chicago.
The book also elucidates how planning in Chicago is in retreat in the current era. This “Chicago way” of planning may surprise those who have taken note only of the global city renaissance. The city that once embraced Daniel Burnham and Edward Bennett’s 1909 Plan of Chicago no longer plans confidently. When we explained the scope of our research to planners in this city, many responded skeptically: “We still do planning in Chicago?” Or as Laurence Msall, president of the Civic Federation, puts it, “If you are working on a book on long-range government planning in Chicago, it is going to be a short book.”7
Astonishingly, as of January 2011, the city no longer has a department with the word “planning” in it. (See Appendix A.) Major plans from recent years have been largely ignored and “deal making” has replaced structured planning processes. The city has lacked a comprehensive vision or set of planning policies since 1966. After peaking in the early 1970s, planning has been in the doldrums ever since. Rather than a systematic understanding of current problems, forecasting of future needs, and crafting of policies to address both, planning has been too often demoted and replaced by one-off projects.8
Planning in the current era centers on funding sources, especially TIF and specialized federal grants. While not inherently bad, TIF has distorted planning and budgeting, enabling a lack of transparency and granting too much discretion to the mayor’s office alone. Instead of a plan, Chicago now has a collection of more than 150 TIFs plus other ad hoc area plans, some of which are impressive but remain largely disconnected. The lack of coherent planning has, at times, led to some unfortunate and wasteful choices. Chicago and planning have long had a special relationship, but that pairing has frayed beyond recognition.
Within this framework, we have four major themes. First, plans and ideas from more than 50 years ago continue to have lasting influence on the city’s trajectory. The growth coalition prophesized, planned, and pushed for a postindustrial downtown as early as 1958, a vision with staying power that emerged with remarkable prescience. Second, as planners well know, politics matters. Chicago’s unique governance environment—featuring parochial aldermen, strong mayors, and numerous TIFs—has frustrated broader comprehensive planning. Third, race and class remain strong influences on the city, and planning has struggled to be effective in the face of those barriers, especially in the city’s poorer neighborhoods. Finally, the city needs to restore planning to a place of prominence as a vital function of government essential to its future.
This book is divided into five parts. Part One continues with important contexts that constrained Chicago planning, including the city’s political regimes, rapid demographic change, and railroad legacies. Part Two examines planning in Chicago’s central area, the three-square-mile space that includes the central business district, known as the Loop.9 Beginning with the 1958 Development Plan for the Central Area, this area received a great deal of attention from the growth coalition, and it figures prominently in the city’s rise to global city status. While the growth coalition wielded influence, its occasionally extravagant plans were rarely completed as proposed and at times were stopped cold by resistance from various sources. Yet even partial implementation moved the city toward growth coalition goals.
Part Three turns to planning initiatives in the neighborhoods. Chicago has played a key role in the evolution of community development planning. It pioneered community “conservation” in the 1950s, enhanced the ...