Monday, November 11, 2013

Chicago's Plan of Action

Not too long ago the Chicago Tribune published a solicitation for plans for the city in the mold of Daniel Burnham's famous master plan.  Rather than come up with a grid with proposed development, I suggest that the city create a philosophy to tackle the core problems.  With declining population and poor key city services in blighted neighborhoods, the city needs to direct its scarce resources as wisely as possible.

With that in mind, I proposed that the city of Chicago designate certain areas of the city as redevelopment zone and invite developers to submit proposals for development through a fast track construction program.  The city has a fast track abatement program which works well at tearing down buildings.  But the city is lacking in a program to build up on the abundant vacant lots that litter the city.  Reduce the barriers to redevelopment in blighted neighborhoods by streamlining the process.

It makes sense:  the city has high cost of living.  You pay a premium to live in Chicago but typically receive less wages.  The city needs to address this problem with increased construction.  By increasing the supply of housing, rents will sink and consumers will have more surplus.  Additionally, more construction job will reduce the oversupply in the labor pool and allow workers to command better wages.  And the best way to attract more construction is to lower barriers to entry.

As a counterpart to this, the city of Evanston created a planning commission in 1989 to redevelop.  Their urban renewal proposal consisted of 

a rebuilt Davis CTA station, public library, streetscape, and water and sewage systems, all centered around a densely populated, pedestrian-oriented transportation hub. A 1993 zoning ordinance opened the way for high-rises, which led to a unique discovery. “If you position a tall building at just the right angle, you can grant almost every one of your units a lake view,”

This concatenates nicely with my own view, which is that many of Chicago's troubled neighborhoods have huge potential.

As Perman explains. “Those projects sent a message to the private investment community that we were serious.”

Likewise Chicago could replicate this strategy in many locations.  If you are interested in more details on my plan for Chicago to turn the corner and revitalize itself, please let me know I have pages of details.