A new road map for Chicago pro­poses great des­ti­na­tions — but how do we get there?

Chicago Sun-Times - - TOP NEWS -

When Chicago thinks big, it’s al­most al­ways in pur­suit of an ar­chi­tec­tural feat or a tri­umph in ur­ban plan­ning.

So we’re happy to see Mayor Lori Light­foot is reach­ing be­yond some sort of ex­pen­sive grand project as a way to spark a much-needed re­cov­ery from the city’s le­gion of COVID-19-re­lated set­backs and the civil un­rest fol­low­ing the killing of Ge­orge Floyd.

But Light­foot’s pro­posed path to­ward re­bound, as out­lined in a may­oral task force re­port re­leased on Thurs­day, “For­ward To­gether, Build­ing a Stronger Chicago,” is ad­mirable, wide-rang­ing — and frus­trat­ingly lack­ing in par­tic­u­lars such as timeta­bles and costs.

The re­port has a good soul. And that’s no small mat­ter if it be­comes a real work­ing guide to Chicago’s fu­ture. It’s a doc­u­ment wor­thy of re­spect, not a place on a back shelf.

The mayor’s plan en­vi­sions a city re­vival brought about by im­prov­ing the so­cial, eco­nomic and cul­tural land­scape, with a par­tic­u­lar fo­cus on im­prov­ing Black and Latino com­mu­ni­ties, which have been hard­est hit by the pan­demic. In an event an­nounc­ing the doc­u­ment, COVID-19 Re­cov­ery Task Force chair­man Sam Skin­ner called the re­port “the best I’ve ever seen” and a “road map.”

But you could get lost with a map like this, which reads more like a set of great des­ti­na­tions.

Ex­actly how we get there, when we get there, and at what cost — es­pe­cially given the city’s mas­sive fi­nan­cial chal­lenges even be­fore the pan­demic hit — that’s any­body’s guess.

A to-do list, not an ac­tion plan

The 105-page re­port lays out 17 ob­jec­tives. A num­ber of them seek to ad­dress needs borne out of the cur­rent cri­sis, such as a call for sub­si­dized child care, a “211” phone line ded­i­cated to men­tal health emer­gen­cies and hold­ing a youth sum­mit in­formed by the re­cent protests and civil dis­tur­bances af­ter Floyd’s death.

The re­port also calls for sig­nif­i­cantly im­proved ac­cess to men­tal and emo­tional health fa­cil­i­ties, but — again — it ne­glects to say how this could hap­pen. Will Light­foot re­open the six city men­tal health clin­ics closed in 2012 by her pre­de­ces­sor — as she promised dur­ing her cam­paign? The re­port is char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally mum on that.

The re­port calls for re­build­ing Chicago’s health care sys­tem, but the city had bet­ter hurry. Four longstrug­gling South Side hos­pi­tals are in peril right now thanks to state law­mak­ers who blocked a planned merger two months ago. One of the four, Mercy Hos­pi­tal & Med­i­cal Cen­ter, told state of­fi­cials last fall that it could close by the end of 2019; it held off only when merger talks be­gan.

More as­pi­ra­tional than op­er­a­tional, the re­port has the feel of a “to do” list rather than an ac­tion plan. It’s an ex­pres­sion of val­ues and pri­or­i­ties — laud­able ones — but bereft of spe­cific march­ing or­ders.

And though COVID-19 and the re­cent ur­ban un­rest are cited as pre­texts for the re­port, some rec­om­men­da­tions sig­nif­i­cantly pre­date

— or have no di­rect con­nec­tion — to the cur­rent trou­bles of our day.

For in­stance, “ex­pand­ing the re­gion’s trans­porta­tion, dis­tri­bu­tion and lo­gis­tics sec­tor by lever­ag­ing new trends in the lo­cal­iza­tion of sup­ply chains” is a po­ten­tially rich source of ship­ping-re­lated jobs, but busi­ness­peo­ple have been clam­or­ing for that for years.

And pas­sages in the re­port smack of hack­neyed cor­po­rate feel­good talk, such as a call to re­vive the city’s pan­demic-stricken con­ven­tion and tourism in­dus­try by show­ing “the world Chicago is open for busi­ness.”

How?

Along those lines, the re­port also calls for in­tro­duc­ing “Chicago’s mas­ter brand.”

Do you know what that means? We don’t, either.

City de­serves bet­ter

We can un­der­stand why pre­vi­ous Chicago may­ors and civic lead­ers have hung their hats on large built projects. You get a bud­get, a set be­gin­ning and an end date.

Light­foot, though, is en­vi­sion­ing some­thing con­cep­tu­ally more so­cially mean­ing­ful than a re­built Loop or a fancy ur­ban park. She’s been mayor for lit­tle more than a year, but she’s got her sites set on sys­temic changes that Chicago has needed for decades. This is a plan steeped in val­ues of racial, eco­nomic and neigh­bor­hood eq­uity.

“If we do this right — and I’m com­mit­ted to mak­ing sure we do — this will be the kind of trans­for­ma­tion that gen­er­a­tions from now, we’ll be talk­ing about as the sec­ond Chicago re­nais­sance,” Light­foot said in an­nounc­ing the re­port’s re­lease.

If that’s the case, given the grav­ity of it all, we think this re­port could have stood more time in the oven. The task force’s work be­gan only in April, and the re­sult feels rushed and in­com­plete, with woe­fully too lit­tle de­tail.

It’s not too late to pop it back in the oven.

LIGHT­FOOT’S PRO­POSED PATH TO­WARD RE­BOUND IS AD­MIRABLE, WIDE-RANG­ING — AND FRUS­TRAT­INGLY LACK­ING IN PAR­TIC­U­LARS SUCH AS TIMETA­BLES AND COSTS.

ASH­LEE REZIN GAR­CIA/SUN-TIMES

Chicago Mayor Lori Light­foot and Sam Skin­ner, co-chair of the city’s COVID-19 Re­cov­ery Task Force, dis­cuss the task force’s new re­port at a press con­fer­ence on Thurs­day.

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