I love Chicago and the State of Illinois does have some good qualities – but I deplore the political shenanigans that have gutted this beautiful city. I do hope that Rahm Emanuel and our state politicians, supported by constituents who really care, will work diligently to get us back on track.
But it's going to take every one of us to do our part. We learned from our neighbors in Wisconsin what happens when we don't. And, we learned from our own experience what happens when we don't. Now it's time to get busy. We need to turn out in record numbers for every election. And we need to speak up loud and clear when our voices aren't heard, when politicians abuse their power.
The Chicago We Loved
I grew up in Chicago. Blessed with parents who believed in ensuring that their children had the best possible education, my 9 siblings and I had the pleasure of enjoying all that Chicago had to offer. Every weekend during Summer months we went somewhere..The Museums, Art Institute, Zoos, Aquarium, Lake Front, Forest Preserves and Parks. These were a huge part of our education. As a young adult, I had the good fortune of enjoying "the rest of the story"…theatres, music concerts, restaurants, and ever so much more. Some of my fondest memories include walking the streets after hours and discovering nooks and crannies that most Chicagoans don't even know exist. I will be forever indebted to our parents and the city for making them easily accessible to us. These are experiences that no classroom or encyclopedia can offer.
Chicago Needs a Structural Overhaul
But that was before Chicago was sold out. It started innocuously. First one, and then another of the amenities that we enjoyed was restricted.
The Illinois Toll Roads were put in with the promise that tolls would be eliminated once the construction bonds were paid off. But through the years the bonds have increased exponentially…Tolls today are obscenely high.
The Indiana Skyway was let out to the Skyway Concession Company (SCC), a joint-venture between the Australian Macquarie Infrastructure Group and Spanish Cintra Concesiones de Infraestructuras de Transporte S.A., We built it, the lease brought a cool $1.83 billion dollar cash infusion to the city and SCC maintains it – and receives all the tolls and concession revenues from that project.Tolls have doubled
Parking meters – another sell out. – were once affordable, mere pocket change – once upon a time. Not long ago Chicago residents could make a quick run, put a quarter in the meter stop in to make some purchases at a local merchant's establishment and move on. Not so since the 75-year deal cracked with Chicago Parking Meter LLC (primarily owned by Morgan Stanley if reports are correct).That deal put a quick $1.16 billion in Chicago's coffers….And cost the City something in excess of $11.6 billion in meter revenues — and over $9 billion in profits — over the 75-year life of the lease.In 2008 the City made a deal with That figure can be expected to escalate exponentially, with additional increases in fees over the years and the plans to add yet more parking spaces. Every available space has been (or is being turned into) a source of revenue. In many neighborhoods it costs $ .25 to part 15 minutes or more. So, we run in and try to conduct business before the meter runs out. And we risk getting parking tickets when we mis-judge the time needed. The meter company company expects to rake in more than $73 million this year –more than triple the city's annual $20 million take before the meters were privatized.
What has that done to Chicagoans? Well, let's say first a huge portion of that money isn't going into Chicago's coffers. That's money that Chicago has lost. We'll be picking up the slack somewhere else, no doubt. Meanwhile many of us are already looking for alternate places to do business. We're considering mail order, conducting business online, taking our business elsewhere. And, as a community we're becoming splintered. There's precious little time to get acquainted with each other with these kinds of restrictions.
Museums and Zoos and even some libraries once accessible for nominal fees – or free – have become an endangered species. We are still lucky enough to have Lincoln Park Zoo, the Garfield Park Conservancy and various Botanical Gardens. They're free or accessible at nominal fees (we won't count parking here). But many of our greatest assets, like the Natural History Museum, Science and Industry Museum, Art Institute and others are becoming tourist destinations you have to budget to enjoy. We've lost one of our most precious sources of education.
Chicago Needs a Facelift And A Structural Overhaul
Today Chicago is one of the worst places to live in nearly every poll. Our job market is still in the tank, gas and food are at an all-time high and our taxes are oppressive. We have entire neighborhoods of vacant and neglected properties, boarded up store fronts and homes in foreclosure, in spite of the pretty facade. Average residents simply can't afford the homes that are being marketed at upwards of $1 million and those that aren't trapped by depressed property values are The jobs available here simply don't support that kind of life style.
It's true that Illinois as a whole, and Chicago specifically is suffering a budget crunch and we all have a responsibility to turn this mess around. But our problems are not going to be fixed by throwing more money at the problem. Let's get serious and look at where all that money is going. Let's get those streams of income working to make Chicago a place where the residents can enjoy the fruits of their labor. Let's start looking at what it's going to take to re-build confidence in the system.Let's start working to make Chicago a nurturing home for it's residents.
It won't be easy. It will take a lot of work. We need to make sure we have the right politicians in position and we need to hold their feet to the fire.