Mayor Richard M. Daleys more than two decades in office are coming to a snowy end. But despite the disaster on Lake Shore Drive that left hundreds of drivers stranded, the city is far stronger today than it was in 1989 when Mr. Daley took office.
The big question is how much credit he deserves for Chicagos economic rebound.
I came to Chicago the year before Mr. Daley was first elected, to study economics and cities at the University of Chicago. The citys imposing structures, like the Museum of Science and Industry, seemed to recall a more energetic past.
Chicagos population had fallen 17 percent between 1970 and 1990. In 1989, more than 69,000 robberies and aggravated assaults were reported in the city. Per capita income was $22,700 (in todays dollars), more than 10.5 percent below the national average.
Chicago first rose to greatness as the linchpin of a great watery arc that coursed from New York to New Orleans. Rails supplemented waterways, and mighty industries, like the stockyards, were built near rail yards to reduce transportation costs. Innovations emerge from urban clusters of genius, and Chicagos ideas like the skyscraper changed the world.
Over the 20th century, the transportation advantages of cities like Chicago were greatly diminished, and manufacturing moved to less-expensive locations. Inexpensive cars enabled a mass suburbanization of people and companies, which turned “Chicagoland” into one of Americas most decentralized metropolitan areas, with more than two-thirds of its employment at least 10 miles from the city center.
But after 1990, Chicagos path diverged from that of Cleveland and Detroit, and the citys population rose, while violent crime dropped 63 percent drop between 1991 and 2009. Chicagos per capita income is now $27,000, above the national average.
The resurgence of the city can be seen in the omnipresent cranes near Lake Michigan and the human energy of Michigan Avenue.
Urban economists typically play down the role of mayors and emphasize that fundamentals, like human capital, explain much of the variation in urban success. More than half of the variation in city growth rates in the Northeast and Midwest between 1970 and 2000 can be explained by the share of adults in that city in 1970 with a college degree.
Globalization and technological change have boosted the rewards for being smart, and people get smart by being around other smart people, often in cities. Chicago succeeds because the same density that once made it easy to put frozen beef onto refrigerated rail cars now speeds the flow of ideas.
But Chicagos 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 citys rebirth came in part for the quality of life and affordable housing that Mayor Daley helped create.
The mayor built a more attractive physical environment, starting with his small, symbolic tree-planting campaign. He achieved signal success with the creative public-private partnership that created Millennium Park. Chicagos splendid public spaces are now among the citys most valuable assets.
Those spaces are valuable because they are safe; Mr. Daley reduced Chicagos crime by investing in the quantity and quality of policing. During the 1990s, the number of sworn police officers increased to 13,500 from 11,700. Those additional officers became more effective because of innovations like community policing and highly visible surveillance cameras.
Mr. Daleys most important contribution to the citys growth may have been his enthusiastic support of construction. New York, Boston and other cities have enforced regulations that make it difficult to build, and overly restricted supply makes cities unaffordable.
In Chicago, the mayor has ensured that building faces few barriers, and that keeps Chicago affordable. The average condominium sold in greater Chicago in 2009 was about 30 percent cheaper than the average condominium sold in New York or Boston. Office space is almost 30 percent cheaper in Chicago than in Boston, and real office costs have dropped by about a quarter during the Daley era.
Building up has allowed Chicago to stay affordable and that attracts both businesses and residents.
Mr. Daley also deserves great credit for clearly seeing that Chicagos success requires better schools. He took control of the public school system and began fighting for change. He hired Arne Duncan, whose successes ultimately led him to be appointed secretary of education in the Obama administration.
Yet despite the best efforts of Mr. Daley and Mr. Duncan, school improvement in Chicago remains a work in progress; fixing urban school systems throughout the country has proved to be far harder than fighting crime.
More than anything else, Americas cities desperately need world-class schools that will keep parents within city borders, and that remains the great urban challenge facing 21st century America.
Chicagos success reflects its creative and entrepreneurial citizens, but Mayor Daley has done as much as any mayor to aid his citys revival. By championing a strong government in policing and public spaces and avoiding the overregulation of construction, the mayor has provided an important model of strong local leadership.
Original Source: http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/02/08/assessing-the-daley-legacy-in-chicago/?partner=rss&emc=rss