Overview

This article details how the CCC masthead offers meanings that are obvious, strategic and exponential.

Our masthead symbolically positions CCC to propose regional solutions that improve household savings and fiscal health; two neglected goals of planning that are key to our metropolis’ progress.

To help digest planning for a better public debate, CCC’s masthead seeks to encapsulate these three economic principles for redeveloping our region.

1) Improving strategic regional assets first should help maximize the growth of sub-regional assets, such as the satellite cities of Aurora, Elgin, Joliet and Waukegan.

2) Improving downtowns are the most cost- effective ways to improve the values and revenues of surrounding neighborhoods and villages.

3) Giving taxpayers value-for-their-dollars by investing first in those assets that yield multiple benefits that reduce government costs and increase household savings.

CCC provides support to local leaders who want to solve regional problems so this, in turn, can solve fiscal problems by improving household savings.

 

Our Masthead’s Triple Meaning Means Change

Each of these three meanings offers progressively more strategic insight into the changes our region needs if we are to compete in this fast-changing economy. Here’s why the meanings matter… and how their symbolism can improve our chances to compete.

First is the obvious meaning: Chicagoland Citizens Central has 3 Cs.But less obvious, CCC exists because it fills a void. This communication void exists because politicians have not squared enough with citizens about these difficult truths: we have out-dated laws and a cumbersome political structure that cannot solve regional problems fast enough which, in turn, undermines the savings we need for a sustained prosperity.

And the truths cut deeper. Cumbersome policies cost us more than we can afford because our governments are fast becoming bankrupt. As for achieving a sustainable prosperity and fiscal balance, taxpayers must pay for solutions and the citizens of Chicagoland will have to sacrifice by modifying a range of their daily habits. Now, we ask: who in public office says that?

So, the job of CCC is to provide a central place to develop the message for how to motivate the region’s key constituency, its citizens, to do those new things that now must be done; and be done better and better.

The second meaning suggests Chicagoland’s 3 strategic assets must be redeveloped… if we are to keep these competitive advantages during the 21st Century. Represented by the masthead’s three photos, each asset was built when it was relatively easy; after all, we were the center of the manufacturing economy. But in today’s ever-changing economy, the competition from other American metropolises is stronger. Plus, America’s economy is faint; creating obstacles to compete globally.

Reinvesting in these three assets yields our greatest bang-for-the-buck. But these investments should have meaning for every Chicagoland household. To bring the appeal home, redeveloping regional assets should be done so it stimulates sub-regional and municipal assets. Here’s how.

The first asset is Chicago’s downtown. In two decades, civic leadership and Mayor Daley together took this very-faded center and transformed downtown into a global center to conduct the world’s business. Chicago’s downtown Renaissance, in turn, raised the region’s stature and suburban land values.

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This is good; but not good enough for the ever-changing 21st Century. For the fast-emerging sustainable economy puts higher values on compact communities. These are key competitive advantages that lower costs for municipalities and households by reducing transportation and other infrastructure costs.

For example….. Before downtown Chicago’s compactness can serve as a better regional asset, its transit must be updated to the standard of other global centers of the sustainable economy… closer to New York or, if we are serious about growth, to the great systems of Europe and Japan.

While Chicago’s downtown serves as a regional asset, its value also increases the rapid redevelopment of several inner neighborhoods. As these sub-regional assets become more compact and get better transit, we see how regional and sub-regional assets support one another in an urban setting.

This strategic investment works for suburban downtowns also… as we see next.

 

Our second great asset is the passenger train system linking Chicago to its suburbs. While once among the world’s best, this system now has fallen to second-rate compared to the cost-savings enjoyed by our competitors in Europe and Japan. The competitions’ advantage is they have more compact suburban centers that, in turn, increase train ridership that, in turn, make transportation savings for households and reduces government subsidies.

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Current Downtown Redevelopment
Proposed Detailing (mostly landscaping)


We selected this photo because it shows a trend started by Arlington Heights and has progressed to other suburbs. While Cook County suburbs grew up as auto-dependent in the middle part of the 20th Century, many recently transformed the land around their train stations; making town centers more compact, walkable and pleasant places to spend money. Largely coincident with Chicago’s Renaissance, suburbs are well into the first phase of their transformation.

But, municipalities have steep learning curves; isolated without the benefit of regional help. A result is the details do not come easy. Reinventing the wheel is too common and costly. This weakness is seen in a “next-steps for 2011” booklet from the Des Plaines Department of Community & Economic Development. Starting with the above photo of its centerpiece Metropolitan Plaza Square, the booklet states:

Downtown Des Plaines, while witnessing many positive changes over the past few years, is nonetheless rather drab when compared to surrounding communities. The comment is often heard, Why can't downtown Des Plaines look as nice as Park Ridge, or Mount Prospect, or Arlington Heights, or . .? While the list can go on, the point is made; downtown Des Plaines is not as attractive as the town centers of the other communities along the Metra Northwest line, despite essentially having all the same elements…..

Because transformations are only complete when the details are complete, we should expect The 2040 Plan to help local governments speed-up their learning curve by sharing what works and what does not. With help, Des Plaines would have more quickly leveraged its newly rebuilt sub-regional asset (a center with transit) so that it, in turn, could raise the value of its nearby neighborhoods.

This excerpt from Des Plaines’ officials also makes an interesting point: that suburbs compete to make their transformations better. This dynamic should motivate the remaining suburbs, say 200+, to change and find ways to reduce car usage and how pavement produces excessive stormwater run-off and flooding.

To appreciate the breadth of regional inter-connectedness, know that downtown Des Plaines has a river that runs through it that, over 40 miles later, merges into the Illinois River and does so near Chicagoland’s largest and most promising preserve. These implications are discussed next.

 

Our third strategic asset is water and open space. With worldwide threats of water shortages and increased flooding, Chicagoland has a great opportunity to manage water better than its competition. We have the natural blessing of a large fresh water lake. Plus, good planning produced Forest Preserves very suitable for the 20th Century.

Despite our advantages, we must reinvest in them today. International law requires most of our new water to come from the ground. To sustain those withdrawals, we must infiltrate stormwater. For that, Forest Preserves need better reservoirs. By investing in these sub-regional assets, we achieve two central justifications for government:
protect public health (with an adequate water supply) and protect private property (from flooding.)

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These pretty flowers are in the Midewin Tall Grass Prairie in ex-urban Will County. Tall grass is a champ at absorbing stormwater. Midewin is the largest protected open space in Chicagoland; as large as combining the land of Evanston, Skokie, Morton Grove and Wilmette. (Curiously, the land’s previous use was to make ammunition for the U.S. war efforts.)

But now, it is our great fortune that Midewin is ideally situated to help us manage stormwater by infiltration. Near where the Des Plaines and Kankakee Rivers form the Illinois, Midewin has some of the lowest-lying land in the seven county region.

While federal law currently restricts Midewin’s uses, there can be amendments that integrate this Preserve into a long-term regional plan. This should be coordinated with a sub-regional plan that includes the six municipalities surrounding Midewin. Their rapid development could hurt -- but should help -- Midewin’s capacity to control flooding and increase infiltration. Its potential is said best by this poster from the exhibit at the Midewin Education Center that states the Preserve’s purpose.

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The extent to which we develop Midewin for these public purposes will prove our intent to update Chicagoland’s assets. Midewin can preserve land, protect property from flooding, infiltrate water and save money from the more expensive option: redeveloping the Preserves in our three largest Counties (Cook, Will and DuPage), all drained by the two main watersheds that are the source of the Illinois River.

Achieving all these public purposes in the face of today’s very restricted public purse requires smarts and collaboration. For the best way to control Midewin’s costs is for municipalities to capture stormwater run-off at each building and road. But frankly, we don’t have time to get 300+ towns to act as one. Flooding is a serious problem now.

So before taxpayers will invest in a regional asset such as Midewin, they must be sold on how its benefits create a multiplier effect, particularly for sub-regions and, specifically, for their basements. Hence, this multiplier leads into our logo’s most advanced symbolism.

The third meaning of CCC connotes exponential progress by developing multiple benefits. The promise of regional planning is two-fold economically. The first is as described above: good planning selects those regional assets for improvement that most improve sub-regions.

Planning’s second promise might come if we focus on improvements that produce two or more benefits. As a prime example, a transit investment should only be made if it coincides with surrounding land uses that increase ridership so the transit requires a smaller subsidy to operate.

But today, we don’t have that second economic promise; largely because land use authority is fragmented among 300+ municipalities. And until state law requires municipalities to collaborate and work together to reduce regional costs (such as making transit more effective), public investments will be more costly and progress will be more difficult for everyone.

Arguably, fragmented authority is Chicagoland’s largest obstacle. And it serves no one. Fragmentation is backward, an obstacle to progress.

However if municipalities had leadership that innovated Best Practices specific to their needs and could redevelop into compact communities over time, the region, for example, would reduce car congestion. As a double benefit, owning one less car can lead to household savings of about $10,000. That, in turn, can help pay to improve other services that communities need. Why can’t local leaders say that?

But, this best-possible future is a long way from reality unless we explain how investing in these assets works for citizens. If we engage the public on their terms, they will invest their money and change their habits. But if we don’t, they won’t. And if we don’t, The 2040 Plan sits on the shelf along with its predecessors while a bankrupt Illinois fumbles its way through another lost decade.

Developing the public’s terms -- taking abstract planning promises and breaking them down to the level of household savings -- is key. In our transportation example, the public might pay higher car usage taxes as an investment in better transit… and the taxes could well motivate more people to use transit as an alternative.

As part of this formula for engaging the public to achieve regional progress, good leadership also has to explain to the NIMBYies that redeveloped compact downtowns increase ridership and improve everyone’s transit investment… while yielding the double benefit of raising property values in surrounding neighborhoods.

These explanations and subsequent decisions are steps to compete in the 21st Century. Either a municipality takes these steps, or it falls behind. Either your town collaborates with its neighbors to solve sub-regional problems such as congestion or flooding, or those problems become too expensive to fix later and you are not in a position to compete and your property values drop.

All this only can be achieved with local leadership. But local leaders and public servants need to share information. And CCC intends to help provide that.

Finding these and other multiple benefits are the keys to solving regional and local problems. If done enough times strategically, Chicagoland can become a global leader in the emerging economy. However if only a few municipalities make these changes, then only these few will prosper and the others will decline and the region may also.

The CCC logo offers us meanings that are obvious, strategic and exponential. Regardless of the 30 year plan that emerges from the councils of government this year, citizens -- their daily actions, taxes and common sense -- are the vital ingredient to bring together Chicagoland’s diverse elements into a prospering region.

That is why CCC will help those local leaders and citizens who intend to solve regional problems together. And that starts now.