Chicago’s where this country girl learned to love cities.
Over the last three decades I’ve visited as often as I could. For many years I made my annual pilgrimage to the Hilton on South Michigan as I participated in the Illinois Municipal League’s convention. I spent many hours on my own, sometimes with a colleague, exploring the Loop and the wonderful, diverse neighborhoods, venturing off by taxi, on bicycle, but mostly on foot. I was hooked by the architecture, naturally, but also by the food, the people, the noise, the music that Chicago plays to lure guests into her wonderful urban web.
For the majority of the years I’ve been trekking in to the city, Mayor Daley’s been at City Hall. His announcement not to seek re-election after 21 years in office no doubt brings a mix of joy and sorrow, depending on your political bent, but for me it signals a shift – whether a positive or negative impact only time will tell. Mr. Daley himself has experienced several shifts during his tenure as Mayor as any true public servant should.
Warning, political soapbox here . . . I’m a former elected official so know whereof I speak – I have found that those elected folks who are able to take in new information, bend their opinions, shift their hard-fought perspectives as times, people, and values change are the most successful and ultimately the most effective public servants. We elect people for what they represent at the time we walk into a ballot box. We should not expect them – nor should we want them to – stay exactly the same, unwavering, even in the face of undeniable change. Humans change, conditions change, everything changes. Wise is the political animal who knows how to change, when to change, to make a difference for his/her constituency.
I’ve witnessed first-hand some of the many architectural and urban planning successes of the Daley administration, including the profusion of flowers and landscaping to soften the hardscape of the city’s brawny, bustling streets, the museum campus and the awesomely beautiful and functional Millennium Park. I have delighted in the miracle that is the Modern Wing of the Art Institute and the cooperation required to build it. I was also in the city within days after the Miegs Field overnight disappearance debacle – OK, everybody makes mistakes and oversteps their bounds!
So, Mayor Daley leaves behind him a city transformed. How many mayors can claim such a legacy – especially in this day when folks get so hamstrung by our information-overload society fed by instantaneous news, opinions and, often, ridicule. In Daley’s wake, Chicago can boast 600,000 trees planted, 85 miles of landscaped medians, and more than 7million (7 million!!) square feet of “green roofs” planted.
As architecture critic Blair Kamin notes, Daley ruled with an iron fist and a green thumb. Truer words were never spoken. Rule he did. But in his heart and soul the Mayor understands that people are what make a city hum. Daley espoused, and worked for, the kind of city culture that attracts people – to live, to work, to visit. Keeping people as the centerpoint of his unquestionably powerful presence and sometimes dictatorial governing methods made Chicago the world class city it is today.
Hats off to you, Mayor Daley. And I say to the candidates as they start to line up, know this: you have indeed some big shoes to fill.