Mayor Daley, U. of Chicago students “adopting” Gary

Former Chicago Mayor Daley and students from the University of Chicago have teamed up to help Gary, Indiana:

With guidance from Daley and Freeman-Wilson, University of Chicago graduate students are trying to figure out what to do with Gary’s abandoned buildings and how to promote greater use of technology to help the city accomplish more with less, among other projects.

The hope is that the students will go on to help other cities after graduation. If successful, the U. of C.-Gary partnership could be replicated in other industrial towns grappling with decline…

Last quarter’s class was divided into three project teams. One team is cataloging Gary’s abandoned buildings, which are magnets for crime and eyesores that further depress surrounding property values. Another is trying to recruit pro bono legal and consulting services for the city. And a third is trying to craft a strategy to clean up front stoops and empty lots one block at a time. This quarter’s class also is tackling untapped funding opportunities and economic development…

In Gary, Daley is applying things he learned as Chicago’s mayor. One example is helping Gary residents take advantage of the earned income tax credit, a tax benefit for the working poor that many don’t know exists. Taking the credit puts money back in people’s pockets, which prompts spending, which boosts the economy.

This sounds like a good project for graduate students who could get hands-on experience. In terms of helping the entire city of Gary, I’m more skeptical. If done well, someone like Mayor Daley and the prestigious University of Chicago can help connect Gary to people who are experts in certain areas (providing social capital) and also monetary capital. But, as the article notes, plenty of outsiders have tried to help Gary before…

Another question that comes to my mind is how Chicago and Gary are connected and whether a stronger partnership between the two cities could help. Gary is an industrial suburb that helped provide some of the materials that helped make Chicago great and also provided a port away from the city. But, such conversations would then have to include talk about things like shared infrastructure and perhaps the Gary Airport (does Chicago want this kind of competition?). Gary is part of the Chicago region and a metropolitan focus could help a lot here.

I’ve noted the work of Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson before.

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