Naperville appoints first mayor emeritus

A new Pradel-less era is underway in Naperville – or not, considering he was just named mayor emeritus

All city council members said they agreed with the sentiment of recognizing Pradel and giving him a title from which to continue volunteering to represent the city at ceremonial events, as he has done so frequently for the past two decades…

The resolution creates the honorary position of “mayor emeritus” specifically for Pradel and only for as long as Steve Chirico, who proposed the position, is mayor. As mayor rmeritus, Pradel, 77, is envisioned to act as a “goodwill ambassador” for the city at ceremonial functions, and to do so without a salary or a budget…

But council member Becky Anderson said she thinks Pradel’s is a special case. He’s the city’s longest-serving mayor who also worked nearly 30 years as a police officer and became known as “Officer Friendly.” Anderson called Pradel Naperville’s “favored son.”

An interesting move that allows Pradel to do what many said was the thing he did best: be a cheerleader for Naperville. Yet, this raises two additional issues for me:

1. This could be viewed either as trying to maintain some continuity with the past (not necessarily a bad thing in a community that has been pretty successful in recent decades) or an inability to move on from the past and seize the new era.

2. Why don’t more local governments have such cheerleader/figurehead positions? This may be written into the jobs for certain people – say, mayors in certain forms of government who don’t have much power or economic development directors – but not everyone has the skills to do this. If countries have these sorts of positions – a president or prime minister who shows the public face but the real work is done elsewhere by other people – why not local governments? My first guess would be that they wouldn’t want another salary to pay.

Conference talks suggest future is bright for big cities

A number of mayors and planners from big cities around the world are meeting in France this week. According to one report, the future looks bright for big cities:

“The future of the world lies in cities,” London’s mayor Boris Johnson told a packed auditorium at the opening day of MIPIM Monday…

“We have to keep putting the village back into the city because that is fundamentally what human beings want and aspire to,” Johnson told the crowd, adapting a famous statement made by India’s Mahatma Gandhi that the future of India lay in its 70,000 villages.

“Cities are where people live longer, have better education outcomes, are more productive,” Johnson noted, adding that cities are also where people emit less polluting carbon dioxide per capita…

A recent study by Citigroup published in Britain’s Daily Telegraph newspaper forecast that mega-cities expected to have the fastest growing economies by the middle of the next decade include London, Chicago, Tokyo, New York, Los Angeles and Hong Kong, Sao Paulo, Mexico City, Shanghai, Buenos Aires, Mumbai and Moscow.

What is being said here is not just the optimism of big-city mayors: others agree about the benefits cities offer such as reduced carbon emissions and being centers of innovation.

A few questions about this conference:

1. Are people bullish about the prospect of big cities because they live and work in big cities and therefore have to be more optimistic? Is this simply boosterism?

2. Is there a distinction made at this conference between central cities and metropolitan regions? When Boris Johnson, mayor of Greater London, talks about London’s prospects, is it safe to assume that he is referring to the whole region and not just Central London? I assume this is really about full metropolitan regions and not just about central cities.

3. Do city leaders in the developing world see things in the same way as the mayors from First World countries cited in this story? For example, mayors of places like London or New York or Chicago or Tokyo are already in charge of world-class cities that have established their place at the top of the hierarchy. Would a mayor of Cairo or Calcutta or Sao Paulo have the same rosy perspective?

Mayors united

It’s not just suburban Chicago mayors excited to work with Rahm Emanuel.  The Hill is reporting that basically every mayor in the U.S. is looking to Chicago right now:

The Chicago mayoral election results Tuesday weren’t just a triumph for Rahm Emanuel; they were also a victory for mayors across the country.

Many mayors have been critical of cuts in President Obama’s proposed budget, and some of them are hoping his former chief of staff will lobby the White House on the needs of local communities.

The U.S. Conference of Mayors, which consists of mayors of cities with populations of 30,000 or more, is eager to work with Emanuel as soon as he is sworn in as Chicago mayor on May 16. With budget battles looming, the group hopes that Emanuel’s influence on the White House and Capitol Hill will significantly advance its agenda.

I’m not sure what to make of this.  On the one hand, I’m all for empowering state and city governments.  On the other, I’m not sure that the best way to do that is to further expand federal control over local governments via an increase in restrictive federal funding grants.

Millennium Park: an example of how growth machines work

Within a story about whether Chicago will be able to move forward with large development projects in the next few years, a historian describes how Millennium Park, a significant undertaking, came about:

Indeed, as Chicago ponders its future, it may be useful to view Millennium Park not as a triumph to be repeated, but as a shining exception, one that occurred only because the stars aligned and Daley had created order in Chicago’s turbulent political universe.

After years of fruitless talk, the story goes, the park got its start in 1997, when the mayor peered down from his dentist’s office along Michigan Avenue and decided to turn that dusty railroad yard in Grant Park’s northwest corner into an urban showcase.

By then, Daley had been mayor for eight years and had consolidated his grip on power. Key figures in the park’s creation, including major donors like the Pritzker and Crown families, were “in many ways indebted to, dependent upon and allied with the mayor,” Gilfoyle said. They wanted to please Daley, he explained, partly because their real estate and other holdings might benefit from future city action.

All roads, in other words, led to Daley. And the economic winds were at his back. The late 1990s dot-com boom gave the park’s chief fundraiser, former Sara Lee Corp. CEO John Bryan, enormous wealth to tap. Without it, Gilfoyle said, the 6-year-old park might never have happened.

Today, with such favorable conditions a distant memory, Chicago’s builders are scrambling to find new paths to get things done. One is to push projects ahead step by step rather than in a single, expensive rush, as at Millennium Park.

This sounds like a classic description of growth machine development: the mayor wants something to get done, major donors and partners are sought and found, and a large and impressive park is able to be built on a spot that had been an industrial location/blighted site for years.

This is an interesting example considering the context of the rest of the story: Chicago will have a new mayor (with less consolidated power) and also is facing significant budget issues. Growth machine politics may not be possible at least with the new mayor for a while though other power brokers could emerge. Growth machines are also more limited when money from businesses and local governments is scarce.

Another question one could ask after reading this story: how unusual was it for both Mayor Daleys to undertake so many significant projects? Around Chicago, they are known for having significant building legacies. Are there mayors in other major cities with similar records or are they truly unusual?

Fighting over suburban character: Show-Me’s in Naperville

One long-lasting idea about suburbs is that they are family-friendly places. So when a business comes to town that may not fit that image, some residents can become angered. Such is the case with a new restaurant that wants to move into Naperville:

Naperville residents will get a chance this week to formally voice their opinions about a controversial plan to open a restaurant called Show-Me’s, which opponents say will feature scantily clad waitresses who do not fit the city’s “family-friendly” image.

An open forum will be held during a Naperville Liquor Commission meeting Thursday.

But a group of about 30 people let their feelings be known during a demonstration Friday. Standing in front of the proposed site, they loudly chanted “Stop the show!” to passing cars.

The protesters have suggested this restaurant does not fit with the character of the community. The community’s mayor is on the record suggesting that he “thought it was a regular restaurant as far as I was concerned” and the clothing of the waitresses was “tastefully done.”

While this seems like just a small group of protesters, the question they raise is an interesting one: what exactly is a suburban community supposed to look like? What businesses and residents fit its image? As the mayor suggested, the proposed restaurant is not breaking any laws or rules so it would hard to reject their liquor license proposal. But necessarily following the rules or laws is not the concern of many suburbanites who have ideas about their ideal community. Local politicians have to account for (or at least acknowledge) these feelings and images even if the proposed business breaks no rules and brings in tax dollars.

(Additionally, it always interesting to read comments on stories about Naperville – it tends to bring out people who both intensely dislike and like the city.)

Who comes after Mayor Daley?

With Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley’s announcement that he will not seek election in 2011, who is going to be the next mayor?

This promises to be a fascinating race, with “no shortage of mayor candidates.” Perhaps Rahm Emanuel, perhaps another Daley, perhaps a current lower-level city or county official.

While there will be a lot of people salivating at the first opportunity to win the mayoral spot in over 20 years, I’m sure not sure this is much of a prize. Chicago faces numerous issues including a large budget shortfall and ever-present issues with crime and education.

It will also be interesting to see how Mayor Daley will be remembered as he finishes his term. Will he go out on a low note (particularly with his recent low approval rating) or will he be recognized for helping Chicago escape Rust Belt status?

A common tale regarding taxpayer funded stadiums

Jeff Passan summarizes how the Florida Marlins misled the public about their profits in order to secure more taxpayer funding for a new baseball stadium to open in 2012.

There is a good amount of academic research that shows that large-scale sports stadiums rarely help the local economy in the way the owners suggest they will. Often, local taxpayers are stuck paying the bill while private owners profit.

Of course, do you want to be the mayor/public official that lets the beloved local team get away?