Lessons from Chicago

Harvard’s Edward Glaeser is becoming my new favorite columnist. He is a regular contributor to the Economix blog at the New York Times. He recently wrote about Mayor Daley’s legacy. As he writes Mayor Daley took over a declining Chicago. Chicago like most American cities had bad times in the 70s and 80s. Mayor Daley turned that around. Chicago is now one of the world’s great cities.

It wasn’t a given. And it didn’t happen despite government, it happened because of the active, component government Daley provided for two decades. As Glaeser writes: But Chicago’s reinvention was less preordained than that of colossal New York or overeducated Boston. The tens of thousands of skilled residents who arrived in Chicago after 1990 and fueled the city’s rebirth came in part for the quality of life and affordable housing that Mayor Daley helped create.

The fundamental lesson we should learn from the Daley years is that the key to vibrant central cities is creating a place where increasingly mobile talent wants to live. And that creating those places requires government.

Glaeser identifies three pillars of Daley’s leadership: development friendly, improved policing and amenities like parks and the arts. These parallel the recommendations we made in our 2003 Revitalizing Michigan’s Central Cities report. We would add to Glaeser’s list being welcoming to all. Being welcoming to gays and immigrants and others who don’t look like us has been a important ingredient in Chicago’s success.

And because the city works – is a talent magnet – the region works. Metro Chicago is the 11th most prosperous metropolitan area in the country with populations of one million or more. That is another lesson we need to learn: successful regions are characterized by both a strong central city and strong suburbs. You need both. Maybe the most important lesson we need to learn is that vibrant central cities – particularly Detroit – are an essential ingredient to getting to Governor Snyder’s Michigan 3.0

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