From Where I Sit July 2018

On June 14th I attended a ground breaking for a new office tower being built at 110 N. Wacker Drive in Chicago.  I was asked by the Mayor’s Office to attend because LCDC was a recipient of a grant from the Mayor’s Office through the Neighborhood Opportunity Fund.  Essentially, the Neighborhood Opportunity Fund exists because downtown developers are required to build affordable units or contribute dollars to a fund for neighborhood improvements like small businesses in struggling communities.  Most developers have decided to pay into the fund instead of building affordable units in their mega projects.  This particular project cost around $800 MM to build and was developed by the Howard Hughes Corporation (yes that Howard Hughes) and would be the largest contributor to the Neighborhood Opportunity fund to date at around $20 MM.

I descended down a makeshift staircase from upper Wacker to lower Wacker Drive where photographers and the press were there to document the event for the hard hat wearing crowd of bankers and a slew of Chicago’s brightest minds in the development community including staff from Bank of America (who is going to be an anchor tenant). The project has the Chicago River as its backdrop and the ground breaking had all the optics you could imagine in a world class city. When Mayor Emanuel came to the podium, he announced that Elon Musk had agreed to build the project to zip folks from O’Hare to downtown in 12 minutes.  I applaud the Mayor for his leadership on these and other projects that are good for the vitality of the city.

I think we need a strong downtown as it is the economic engine that makes the region vibrant.  However, when I go back home to North Lawndale from those meetings, I experience a sense of powerlessness that is palpable.  Eleven (11) people have been murdered in our neighborhood in 2018.  Girls have shown up dead on vacant lots and in abandoned buildings.  Police officers have been indicted for robbing drug dealers in our police district.  Churches in our communities have stood in the gap.  They have performed lots of funerals and counseled grieving families.  Our institutions have sent young people to college and trained young men and women to get jobs.  We have opened food pantries and housed families fleeing persecution in their home countries.  We have made a commitment to the common good that is just as relevant, and I dare say more impactful than the commitment of the money crowd.  My issue is that I don’t see the same level of commitment, creativity and impactful scale happening in our community as downtown.

Black people are leaving Chicago in droves.  According to the IHS Data Clearinghouse, 42,504 black people left between 2010 and 2016.  They have had enough of the crime, food deserts, job deserts, red light camera taxes, poor schools, high taxes, and the like.  They have voted with their feet. This is not politician bashing as some are prone to do.  It’s not the Mayor’s fault or an Alderman’s fault or frankly any political leaders fault.  Government responds to proposals put forth by leaders.  The downtown crowd proposes and initiates on behalf of their interests.  Frankly, they did not need the Mayor or anyone else to make their $800 MM project happen.  You can do that when you have the resources at your disposal that they do.  How do poor people put themselves in a position to negotiate their interests in Chicago when they have a proposal for the common good?  What are we proposing?  How do we move from reacting to others to acting on our interests with an agenda that is grounded in the goals and aspirations of every day people?  I have a proposal.  Stay tuned.

By God’s Grace,

Richard Townsell