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Will Mayor Daley’s Successor Be Hit With Economic Reality When Contemplating Landmark Public Improvements?

Will Mayor Daley’s Successor Be Hit With Economic Reality When Contemplating Landmark Public Improvements?As Chicago’s longest serving mayor leaves his post in May of 2011, Richard M. Daley leaves a legacy that includes the iconic Bean in Millennium Park to the flower-filled planters that ornament 85 miles of the city’s streets.  Whoever fills his post will find that budget shortfalls resulting from the Great Recession will collide with reality; the bottom line is that it will be difficult for whoever succeeds Mayor Daley to extend his vision to beautify Chicago.

Writing in the Chicago Tribune, architectural columnist Blair Kamin says that “This was a mayor with a passion to build.  By combining the roles of chief politician and chief planner, Daley became the ultimate shaper of Chicago’s cityscape.  There was no denying his authority over the cityscape — just as there is no denying the deep anxiety his departure has spawned among the city’s architects and builders.  Chicago, they worry, will go from being a city in overdrive to a city on hold.”

“I hope the intensity remains,” said Chicago developer Dan McCaffery, who is planning to turn the 580-acre former U.S. Steel plant on the southeast lakefront into a mixed-use community. “People in City Hall knew that when the mayor had endorsed something, it was aggressively pursued. You could feel the difference.  It was palpable.”  “Any new mayor has got to realize that being a green city has become a part of Chicago as much as hot dogs,” said Ben Helphand, president of the Friends of the Bloomingdale Trail, which is pushing to develop an elevated park, nearly three miles long, on a long-disused railroad spur on the city’s Northwest Side.

A 2010 survey conducted by the Trust for Public Land revealed that Chicago has a mere 4.2 acres of parkland per every 1,000 residents, according to Erma Tranter, president of the advocacy group Friends of the Parks.  “We do not have sufficient park space for a healthy community,” Tranter said.  “It’s an absolutely critical issue in neighborhoods where children don’t have places to play.  That correlates to obesity, health problems and higher costs for future health issues.  There are children who are bombarded with all these electronic games.  They don’t have land anywhere near for them to go to.”

“Daley’s done a great job and he led the city very strongly. But if we’re going to move where we need to be, we need to engage the community in a different way,” said Peter Nicholson, executive director of the Foresight Design Initiative, a nonprofit devoted to sustainability issues. “It can’t be command and control.”

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