Urbs in toto: Next mayor must keep bringing development to neglected parts of the city
He will have to address the growing notion that investing in long-neglected South and West side neighborhoods comes at the expense of downtown and the North Side.
The ongoing cultural tug-of-war between the North and South sides is one of the city’s most enduring rivalries.
It’s gone on for better than a century — certainly since working-class South Side immigrant Anton J. Cermak was elected mayor in 1931, defeating North Side incumbent William Thompson and bringing political power to the precincts south of Roosevelt Road for the following 50 years.
The division is all in good fun when we’re talking about pizza, barbecue or baseball teams. But when it continues to be used as a means to divide the city’s benefits and spoils — or to even discuss how they should or shouldn’t be divvied — that’s when things turns ugly and quite predictable:
The prosperous North Side gets the bounty while the South and West sides get the leftovers.
Chicago’s next mayor, if he is to be successful at all, must keep working to rebuild the South and West sides.
And he must also address the growing notion that improving the long-neglected neighborhoods south of Cermak Road and west of Ashland Avenue comes at the expense of downtown and the North Side.
An ‘over-emphasis’ on the South and West sides? Frankly, this editorial board hoped political positions like this were a thing of the past, and that city leaders now understood that rebuilding and improving the city’s historically underserved areas is a benefit to the entire metropolis.
‘Us vs. them’ mentality has to go
Downtown and the North Side must be tended to, for sure. But the whole body is affected if one part of it is unwell.
Last week, we heard that sentiment from outgoing North Side Ald. Tom Tunney (44th), in his post-mortem on Mayor Lori Lighfoot’s defeat in last month’s election.
Tunney told the Sun-Times’ Fran Spielman that Lightfoot lost because her “over-emphasis, while laudable, on South and West neglected downtown and neglected the North Side.”
It isn’t just Tunney. Shades of this surfaced last fall during the City Council’s debate over creating a $950 million transit TIF district to help fund the CTA Red Line extension on the Far South Side.
Aldermen from downtown and the Near North Side questioned the TIF district as a way to get CTA President Dorval Carter to come before the City Council and address the transit agency’s issues with crime and service.
But they also raised questions about the TIF drawing property tax revenues from better-off areas, as if adding nearly six miles of rail and four new L stations — bringing people into downtown and points north more efficiently — wouldn’t be a benefit to Chicago as a whole.
City Council ultimately passed the TIF, but the next mayor must take a stand against the “us vs. them” mentality that would work to put redevelopment of the South and West sides on the back burner once again.
And while downtown and the North Side contribute the yeoman’s share of tax revenues to the city’s coffers, those areas get as good as they give.
Lightfoot’s lnvest South/West reinvestment program promised $2 billion in public and private reinvestment stretched across 10 South and West side areas.
But Lincoln Yards, a mega-project in the North Side’s Lincoln Park neighborhood, and The 78 redevelopment effort on the South Branch west of downtown, will get a combined $2.4 billion in city subsidies — more than the entire Invest South/West portfolio.
Many historically under-resourced neighborhoods such as Roseland, Englewood, West Englewood and Austin would likely prefer to be “neglected” this way, as opposed to what those communities have received since the 1960s.
Enough to go around
Invest South/West might not have been perfect, but for the good of the city, the new mayor should improve, expand and continue the program, as this editorial board has argued.
What cannot continue is the idea that an effort such as Invest South/West puts downtown and the North Side at a disadvantage.
There’s enough to go around, whether it’s Lincoln Park or West Garfield Park. And the next mayor should make sure the benefits are shared equitably — while vigorously pushing against the voices who would argue otherwise.
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