Seven High Pillars of Daley's Success

By Peirce, Neal | Nation's Cities Weekly, September 27, 2010 | Go to article overview

Seven High Pillars of Daley's Success


Peirce, Neal, Nation's Cities Weekly


Not for naught has Chicago's soon-to-retire Richard M. Daley been called "the king of America's mayors," hailed as the man who took command of a raucously divided city in 1989 and turned it into one of the world's most respected metropolises.

One factor was sheer political skill. Daley reached out to a diverse array of constituencies that his legendary, heavy-handed father, Mayor Richard J. Daley, had largely ignored. A prime example: Chicago's large African-American community. In 1989, the younger Daley's first run for mayor, black voters gave him just 7 percent of their vote; in his last election, 2006, they accorded him a majority.

But seven dramatic policy shifts of the Daley years elevated Chicago's fortunes to the top tier of world cities.

(1) Livability. Chicago's handsome park setting along Lake Michigan, where white sails sparkle on a summer day, has always been a major plus. But Daley expanded the lakeside beauty inland, to create a new green alchemy, not just in the city's heart but also in its historically neglected neighborhoods.

Today, downtown is filled with beds of flowers and blossoming pots hung from new street lamps--part of a system of 110 miles of green roadway medians stretching out into the neighborhoods. Starting with City Hall itself, the city has developed a world-leading 7 million square feet of green roofs.

Most attention centers on Millennium Park, built atop ugly old rail tracks, opened in 2004 with $475 million worth of greenery, sculptures, fountains, playgrounds, bike rentals and a performing arts center. But the caring green touch extends to 570 city parks.

Add in Daley's broad focus on arts and culture, and the result is a city where people--including talented but footloose professionals--want to live. That makes possible the next Daley landmark:

(2) A vibrant new century economy--past the smokestack era, past Carl Sandburg's legendary "hog butcher for the world" and "city of big shoulders"--to a "hot" modern-day urban center of advanced financial, legal and specialized services to the Midwest and wider world.

Emblematic: Recruiting Boeing from Seattle, the thriving financial services by the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and Board of Trade, and Daley's ferocious determination to keep building O'Hare as a top global airport.

(3) A climate action plan that's arguably the world's most advanced. Based on scientific research and broad community consensus-building, it features 452 steps crosscutting major segments of Chicago's geography, economy and living patterns.

And there's strong follow-through, including quarterly accountability meetings of department heads. A Boeing-created "dashboard" carefully tracks progress on every front from building weatherization to solar installations to tree plantings. …

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