It’s politics and open lands on Chicago Newsroom this week.
Producer David Resnick joins the discussion as political and communications specialist Peter Cunningham talks with us about the immediate political scene in Chicago.
We ask, in light of today’s news that Chicago has suffered yet another population loss, if Governor Rauner was right when he blamed the exodus on excessive tax in the state.
“I don’t think that’s true,” Cunningham begins. “It may be one factor but there’s a lot of other factors. Immigration has slowed down, that’s one issue. Birth rates are actually a factor. It’s contributing to the under-enrollment in the Chicago public schools. Those are two factors. I think the third is … the emptying out of the South and West sides, the African American community at an alarming rate. It’s about 400,000 fewer African Americans in Chicago today than in 1980, and I imagine there’s a lot contributing to that from crimes to schools to lack of opportunities, to just organic movement out to the suburbs, things that were not an option for urban blacks back in the 60s and 70s, started to become an option in the 80s and 90s. So a lot going on there and I think it’s an existential threat frankly to Chicago to see whole neighborhoods emptied out.”
“When we did this campaign with Bill Daley,” he continues, (Cunningham managed Bill Daley’s recent Mayoral campaign) “we talked a lot about getting Chicago back up to three million people. It used to be 3.6-million. It’s now 2.7. There has been an influx of whites but the loss of blacks is in the decline in growth in the Latino community or both contributing to essentially a flat population base. And I think that when you think about our problems in the city from under-enrollment in the schools, emptying out the schools to extreme costs that are burdening us, some related to pension, some of them just related to just debt, some of them related to just overspending. You know increasing the population, increasing the size of the city, the activity is you know part of the answer.”
Cunningham also talks about how Lightfoot’s election was a curious “north-side revolution” and how it represented a hard-to-define anger in majority-white sections of he city.
“People are catalyzed by anger, ” Resnick adds.” I think that Peter alluded to that but I think it’s something that we need to bring in to full relief. People were mad when they voted and the anger was expressed by the “throw them out” attitude. And I think that Lori Lightfoot was a beneficiary to that.”
In our second segment, Openlands CEO Jerry Adelmann talks about the environmental challenges the Chicago region faces in the coming years. And there are lots of them.
He talks specifically about the challenge of recovering degraded lots or former industrial spaces, for example.
“Well, he says, “One of our founders said early on you have to save a site at least three times, because there’s always threats and issues and things.” Reclaiming a site and then maintaining it for years afterward, he explains, is an enormous challenge.
Adelmann also talks about Openlands’ involvement in the struggle to save Deer Grove Forest Preserve from a move to expand a two-lane road to a massive five-lane quasi-expressway. And he laments the fact that Chicago is falling behind in street trees.
“We have one of the worst canopy covers of any large city in the country,” he claims. The Emerald Ash Borer has killed, Adelmann claims, “16-17% of the trees on public lands, parkways and boulevards you know, ash, so that’s huge… But also we don’t have really good policies in place and it’s a concern. There’s some talk that we have lost tens of thousands of trees in the last eight years, net loss. My organization cares deeply as you know about the urban forest, not just in the city but also throughout the region… Back pre-Mayor Daley under Mayor Byrne and she did some really good things…But on the urban forest she wasn’t very good. She slashed the budget. Professional people left. There were no policies in place. We did a study and we documented that there was a net loss of about 100,000 trees over a ten-year period in the city.”
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You can read a full transcript of the show here: CN transcript April 18 2019