A public market, a new hotel to serve the convention center, a bike parking facility, a completely re-envisioned East Washington Avenue, and new neighborhood centers around the city.
Today, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is announcing a breathtakingly ambitious plan to invest $7 billion in new infrastructure for streets, sewers, fiber optic cables, parks, transit and more. Emanuel clearly gets his city, and gets what being a mayor is all about.
The fun of being mayor is not in telling the kids to get off the lawn (though sometimes you have to do that); it's in sparking the imagination about what your city can be.
A century ago Daniel Burnham wrote, "Dream no small dreams. Make no small plans. From now on the spirit of Chicago is 'we will!'"
In that spirit, Emanuel is declaring that he's tired of waiting for the dysfunctional federal and state government to act. His city is going to do it for itself. That's exactly right.
Cities across America, not just Chicago, can actually get things done. Municipal government is the most functional, the most efficient, and the most responsive form of government in America right now.
I made no apologies for building and borrowing to do it when we needed to. Interest rates are at historic lows, construction bids are competitive, people need the work and the work needs to be done. If we rebuild streets today that will need to be rebuilt in the next few years anyway, but we do it with lower interest rates and at a lower cost, aren't we essentially paying ourselves forward? By being apparently fiscally conservative today, are we really being fiscally reckless for our future?
While I had no qualms about making investments for the long-term good of the city through the property tax, Emanuel will try a different and new way to pay for his projects. He's using an infrastructure bank concept, which, frankly, is untested. He may be going out a limb by promising that he can do all this without raising taxes, but new ideas are always worth a try and we'll see how this one works out.
Here's a promotional video about these plans, named "Building a New Chicago."
The point is that Rahm Emanuel has caught the wave of cities. He understands that building things isn't just "building things" -- it's building ideas, sparking the imagination, and creating a sense of excitement, energy and forward movement. It's about making an emphatic statement that your city is alive and moving. It's not an edifice complex; it's a complex of ideas.