The Cities That Work Series: Overcoming zero-sum mindset key to mega-regional development
Occasionally, life comes full circle. Growing up in Wauwatosa, a mid-sized suburb just west of Milwaukee city limits, Chicago felt thousands of miles away. Despite my father’s sales territory including regular business trips to the Chicago area, our family rarely ventured south. When I chose to attend Northwestern University, I found myself extolling Chicago’s familiarity and proximity to my Milwaukee friends, some of whom resisted my repeated encouragement to visit, citing various reasons why the trip would be a hassle.
During those college years, my passion for public policy took shape – and what a laboratory for learning! After a brief stint in Washington D.C., I signed on with the brand-new Daley Administration in 1989. Mayor Richard M. Daley, with his well-earned reputation for paying attention to every detail, gave me the rare opportunity to see how everything relates to everything else. My work helped me get to know many more corners of my adopted hometown than I did my own birthplace.
On July 25, I’ll have the opportunity to learn more about and draw connections between both cities – and Gary, Ind. – at the Metropolitan Planning Council’s Annual Luncheon. The main event is a discussion among Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett (no relation), and Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson. As moderator, I will have the fantastic opportunity to ask questions I never would have fathomed as a teenager in Milwaukee, questions influenced by the tri-state experiences I’ve had and leaders I’ve been fortunate to meet as president of a nonprofit that supports a sustainable mega-region. What price do we pay by putting our economic development energies into poaching companies instead of identifying common industry clusters and supplier networks to expand? How can our shared shoreline and abundant fresh water supply become our mega-region calling card to attract private investment? What should our vision be for our mega-region, and how does each city, along with key business, civic and government partners, play a role in achieving that vision?
MPC asked about a dozen thoughtful partners to reflect on the tri-state region’s potential and identify opportunities for the mayors to coordinate more closely on shared priorities. Their ideas, featured in The Cities That Work blog series on MPC’s blog, The Connector, are inspiring me as I prepare for a substantive and challenging dialogue. Ellen Albderding, president of the Joyce Foundation, is calling for a major investment to separate the Great Lakes from the Mississippi River watershed to stop invasive species, maintain our waterways, and protect the ecosystem and our economy. Adam Ostry, senior counselor for the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and co-author of OECD’s Territorial Review of the Chicago Tri-State Metropolitan Area, recommends that to maintain our mega-region’s competitive edge as the nation’s intermodal transportation hub, key stakeholders from the transportation and logistics sub-sectors must work together to integrate various intermodal plans and priorities.
Each of the three mayors has a reputation for taking on tough and controversial issues and wrestling them to the ground. So, I’m going to be sure to reserve some time during the panel not just for the meaty issues of what to collaborate on, but also for the how. Will the three mayors commit to active engagement in the new Tri-State Alliance being formed to pursue ideas in OECD’s report?
To hear the pundits tell it, we live in a zero sum world. You win, they lose. And vice versa. But, what if we can assemble the analytics to show that a fully functioning Gary-Chicago International Airport is beneficial to the greater region’s economy and environment? What if we prioritized infrastructure investments for passenger and freight rail and attracted a net increase in public dollars and significantly more private funds? Essentially, what if we can show that we can’t afford NOT for forge this mayoral alliance and that a win-win-win is within reach?
MPC’s staff and volunteers live in every corner of this dynamic region. We can continue to celebrate the unique character of the places where we live while recognizing our interdependence. I’m proud to be from the Milwaukee region. And I love living in Chicago and having as my canvas the broader region, which has allowed me to spend significant time working in Northwest Indiana in the last couple years. But I’ve grown tired of the eye-rolling that accompanies comments about our region’s missed economic opportunities, or many overlapping governments, insinuating nothing can change. We don’t have the luxury of rolling our eyes and walking away; we must change to stay relevant in a global economy.
Please join us for this historic conversation on July 25th. And get ready for a new frame for our region.
On Wednesday, July 25, MPC hosted our 2012 Annual Luncheon: The Cities That Work, featuring an insightful dialogue between the mayors of Gary and Milwaukee, about opportunities to strengthen the tri-state region. Leading up to the event, we featured a series of posts from guest authors and members of our staff on issues that unite the tri-state region. Read the whole series at www.metroplanning.org/citiesthatworkseries.