Public-Private Partnerships: Improving Urban Life

By Perry Davis | Go to book overview

Partnerships Redefined:
Chicago's New Opportunities

DONALD HAIDER

In the depths of New York City's 1975 financial crisis, national attention turned to the country's second largest city, Chicago. While urban conditions were deteriorating elsewhere, Chicago represented stability. It was "the city that works": no municipal labor strife, no budget deficits, and no lack of public and private leadership. This dynamism, according to several observers, rested on a base of three interlocking entities that included the ward organization, the governmental apparatus of the city and county, and the powerful private interest groups and constituencies in the community. Over the decades, noted Chicago Magazine, "the belief persisted in Chicago that no civic problem was so great that it couldn't be solved by gathering a handful of important people — usually the Mayor and the chief executives of the largest local corporations — together in one room." 1

Chicago's public-private partnerships emerged as the envy of other large cities. But ten years later, the Chicago partnership model was in disrepute. Richard J. Daley had been Chicago's mayor and leader for twenty-two years. His death in 1976 accelerated evolutionary changes that seem revolutionary in retrospect. The Democratic party and its organizational structure came apart at the seams. The building-trade unions no longer dominated Chicago's labor scene. Business and civic organizations were in disarray. The Chicago Tribune concluded: 'The two factors that have for so long glossed over Chicago's inadequacies — economic growth and Daley political power — are gone for good." 2

The power struggle resulting from the succession of three weak mayors following Daley's death produced unfavorable media coverage locally and nationally. What the local media termed the "Vietnamization of Chicago" in 1984 led the national press to refer to Chicago as "Beirut on the Lake." 3 Clearly, Chicago in the 1980s does not function as it did in the 1970s; nor will it do so again.

Cities, like most large organizations, pass through phases of growth and decline. They are vulnerable to powerful trends and changes in the external environment that, in turn, affect their viability and governance. Chicago's cycle of growth

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