1) Metropolitan Planning Council: Growing Chicagoland Sustainability.

Few organizations can achieve this superior feat of constant purpose: to influence the evolution of the welfare state regionally over seven decades. Even fewer today can change the flow of our region’s development as we enter a new collaboration between commerce and government.

MPC has served as our 20th Century beacon for regionalism and, now, is leading us into a 21st Century sustainability....

Started in the 1930s as a housing and social policy advocate and run only by female Executive Directors (except once), MPC helped local and Illinois government shape the emerging welfare state. As the need arose for a progressive regional perspective during the postwar period, MPC added economic development and infrastructure to its portfolio.

Steadying the metropolitan course through five decades of twists and tensions, MPC today is Chicagoland’s single most comprehensive integrator of public programs that support our fast-changing economy and compensate for its social inequities.

Two recent strategic initiatives that changed Chicagoland for good. To find common ground and goad Illinois law to allow the benefits of regional planning, MPC’s leadership built and, upon completion, will have folded two strategic initiatives. Both added significantly to MPC’s role in containing our sprawling auto-dependent metropolis and, today, is helping focu improvements on the infrastructure we got.

MPC’s longer-lasting and most influential initiative is Metropolis 2020. Recognizing the private sector was not a full enough participant in solving regional problems, 2020 would recruit the region’s broader commercial elements to help with programs needed for Chicagoland to prosper in the global economy. To protect MPC’s reputation as an independent advocate, 2020 was really started with the revitalized backing of the Commercial Club of Chicago; the same group that spearheaded Burnham’s 1909 Plan of Chicago and the civic movement that served as the foundation of the Plan’s success.

At the turn into the 21st Century, 2020 produced a seminal book with two pivotal contributions. The first was to focus on remaking Chicagoland’s disparate, outdated authorities. (Regrettably, this rationalization of government remains a current theme.) Secondly, the book advanced the agenda for the neglected regional social problems of housing, education and poverty. This shows how today’s tenor has advanced within the Commercial Club since it is alleged to have excised these issues from a draft of Burnham’s 1909 Plan.

Perhaps Metropolis 2020’s greatest achievement was its legislative advocacy that eventually created CMAP (the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning) that has produced The 2040 Plan.

Following the line set by their seminal book for bringing the metropolis into the new Century as a global competitor, the strategy of 2020 was to work with other groups so their solutions could become regional. 2020’s greatest impact being in housing and transportation.

Then as 2020’s last major initiative, it organized the Centennial of the 1909 Plan. The celebration set the stage and attempted to raise the bar for the 2010 completion of the 2040 Plan.

 

img This is one of 100+ mini-exhibitions related to the Burnham Centennial that Metropolis 2020 organized. This line of posters was in the walkway of Midway Airport’s station for the CTA Orange line. Of course, even Burnham’s Big Plans never envisioned the airport; but he did advocate moving smoothly from one mode of transportation to another... a goal made cost-effective by better planning. Integrating transportation probably is where 2020 has its greatest impact, but our still remains far from ideal.

 

After a decade of working many of its proposals into the political dialog and a few into OK laws (such as CMAP), Metropolis 2020 began talks with MPC in late 2009 to more formally merge their efforts. Yet 2020 still keeps at it; publishing its latest report in September 2010 entitled “Building Our Economy: Transportation for a New Illinois” (link to www.chicagometropolis2020.org/) that continues a decade of work in making the economic case for rail transportation.

While Metropolis 2020 was reenergizing commerce, MPC’s second major initiative built a coalition of like-minded groups to shape regional goals. As such, The Campaign for Sensible Growth sought antidotes to auto-dependent suburban sprawl and to coalesce forces around urban regeneration.

The Campaign found a common, higher-ground for various progressive forces often not in-sync. The Campaign’s core synergy was to bring together conservationists and urbanists. Upon achieving its objectives that included defining programs for environmental sustainability, The Campaign merged into MPC’s regular programs in 2008. Not only did this infuse new energy and elevate the regional agenda, but this more unified thinking also prepped the agenda for the economics of sustainability.

Both these initiatives (2020 and the Sensible Growth Campaign) show MPC’s strategic insight, if not brilliance, in the very dull and low-profile discipline of planning which is so essential to constructing a common good. 2020 prominently brought business leaders back into the formula; and the Campaign got community groups to read more from a similar playbook.

While these two civic initiatives are important, the bulk of MPC’s daily work and its immediate impact on state and local policy are derived largely from its close working relations with the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus. Formed in 1998 and made possible by the leadership of Mayor Daley, The Caucus has made great strides in finding the common ground between Chicago and its suburbs.

The Caucus’ greatest agreement seems to revolve around what municipalities need from Illinois. From the radical -- almost rootless-- diversity of 250+ mayoral minds representing more than a few mistakenly independent municipalities, the suburban- Chicago tension that so strangled many past regional initiatives has now, at least, been neutralized. Call it a modern miracle.

When the Caucus works with MPC on select issues, it gives a subtle under-current of guidance to Mayors so they learn the region is not only greater than the sum of its parts, but also is the key ingredient to productivity in the new economy.

Evolving From Sensible Growth To Livability To Sustainability. The national Smart Growth movement posed comprehensive alternatives to suburban sprawl and urban decline. The catch-phrase of “livability” emerged; seeking to improve the physical side of communities, highlighting notions of walk-able neighborhoods and creating great places.

Yet in today’s seemingly intractable real estate recession, sprawl may have met its match. In the face of a relentlessly declining market, “livability” alone has inadequate answers to the economic and fiscal dilemmas of communities. For we are discovering suburban municipalities cannot balance their books because the services they provide also are too spread out and, hence, expensive. While MPC uses the concept of sustainability throughout its literature, it most commonly describes the environmental and physical lives of communities. MPC and its regional partners are only in the early stages of detailing policies that are economically and, eventually, fiscally sustainable.

In today’s early stage of getting specific, MPC started building the region’s bridge to a broader set of policies. To structure the fledgling federal policy to coordinate its programs and transcend bureaucratic silos, the Obama Administration established 6 Livability Principles. To help put substance behind these Principles, MPC along with its regional partners produced a document in mid-2009 called “Federal Investmen Reform Lessons from the Chicagoland Experience” http://www.metroplanning.org/multimedia/publication/292

 

img “Chicagoland Experience” offers case studies of how these 6 Principles work here. In fact, MPC added a 7th Principle. The document was prepared for a luncheon sponsored by MPC in which speeches were made by three U.S. Cabinet secretaries and the Director of the White House Office of Urban Affairs. This was their first stop of a national tour “to look at innovations for the metropolitan areas of tomorrow.”

 

Our case studies discuss the economic and, to a lesser degree, local fiscal benefits. This process of testing and reporting are the nuts and bolts of the bridge to sustainability. MPC is more than our region’s leader; in offering these policy lessons, MPC also serves as a national model.

Dynamically guiding MPC’s 15-year transition has been Mary Sue Barrett, former policy chief to Mayor Daley. If Mayor Daley is the most powerful leader of our metropolis (a difficult-to-dispute fact through February 2011), then Mary Sue Barrett is probably our best strategist for solving regional problems. First by finding the common ground of single-issue progressives (via Sensible Growth) and then by adding the infrastructure and other elements that commerce needs to compete (via Metropolis 2020), MPC is finding the mix that will rebuild the region on comprehensive, sustainable principles.

Ms. Barrett represents the part of Sustainable Susan who will persuade enough of the 254+ municipal ducks to get in a row. (Although it is fair to say that we will have to update Illinois land use law to serve the region before enough municipalities also face in the correct direction.)

logo For more details on their work or signup for their e-newsletters, consult MPC’s website.

 

img Shelley Poticha, Director of the Office of Sustainable Housing and Communities for the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development, came to speak at an April 2010 luncheon at MPC offices on “The Great Communities Collaborative: Adapting a New Model for Sustainable Place-Based Investment.” Ms. Poticha helped set up this Collaborative in the San Francisco Bay Area that works with communities to build transit-oriented development (TOD). Also on the panel were CMAP’s Executive Director and his counterpart in northern Indiana. Prior to Ms. Poticha’s May 2009 appointment to the Obama Administration, she had been the Executive Director of Reconnecting America, the nation’s primary public-private network for TOD. She also was a co-founder of Transportation for America, a coalition to broaden the scope of transportation advocates.

 

Click here to go back to the Citizens Guide page and read more...