CN February 7, 2012

“One way or another, we have to pay, as a society, for the fact that people don’t have enough money to subsist,” says Mayoral Tutorial’s Don Washington in reaction to Governor Quinn’s call for a $10.00 minimum wage. “Either we pay for it because they resort to crime, or they resort to the underground economy in some other way, or we pay for it because we have to find social programs to meet the needs. So when I hear people talking about ‘oh, it’s gonna increase unemployment, it’s gonna kill the recovery’ I think what they should really be asking is – we’re already paying something. We just don’t quantify those costs. It’s not figured into our GDP.”

A big part of our conversation about the minimum wage was guided by yesterday’s revealing Tribune story by Ameet Sachdev and Ray Long. Among the research findings they cite: wage floors can do more good than harm.

Only a few hours before we recorded the show, two different meetings of the CPS Schools Closing Commission became pretty raucous affairs, with as many as a thousand parents demanding to be heard. Washington was at one of them.

“The parents I talk to, they don’t want their schools closed, they want their schools invested in,” he says. He expresses the view he says a lot of parents believe about the CPS process. “We’re not interested in these meetings to hear people. They are telling you what they’re going to do.”

“Our mayor’s public policy ideology is that everything needs a market-based solution in some way, shape or form,” he adds. “Inject a little competition, or in some cases just make a market out of it. And the moral compass, the thing that guides this is expediency. He knows he’s right … so they’re not interested in convincing you.”

We’re joined in the second half of today’s show by Peter Harnick, who has written the highly influential Urban Green, a book that guides parks and open-space advocates  in their efforts to add park space – or radically improve what already exists – in big American cities. He was keynote speaker at the Friends of the Parks’ annual luncheon, but he stopped by Chicago Newsroom first.

We talked about one of the most significant problems Harnik says all urban parks face today – competition.  Screens – big, small and mobile- command so much of our attention. Our back yards are bigger and better-equipped. Gyms, retail – everything conspires to limit the amount of time we have for parks.

But more and more, he says, parks are fighting back. Improved playgrounds, fitness programs, modern playing fields and glitzy attractions (think Millennium Park) are making parks relevant again.  We also ask him about how a city like Chicago, plagued with so much youth violence, can make its parks a part of the solution, instead of just a place where shootings often happen. Among his recommendations: focus attention on the edges. Promote retail, residential and entertainment development on the streets that face into the park, so that it generates crowds and excitement.

One of Harnick’s pet projects, since he’s with the Trust for Public Land, is the Bloomingdale Trail, a three-mile linear park atop the old abandoned viaduct that bisects Humboldt Park, Bucktown and Logan Square. It’s been in the planning stages for years, but TPL is now fully committed, and Mayor Emanuel has said he wants it done during his first term.

“It’s definitely going to happen”, he tells us.

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About Ken

Ken's the host of Chicago Newsroom. A former news director, reporter and radio program host, he's also a past Vice President of the Chicago Headline Club.
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