Prepared Remarks of Secretary Shaun Donovan at the National Mayor's Summit on City Design

Hilton Chicago, Chicago, IL
Friday, April 29, 2011

Thank you, Rocco, for that very kind introduction and for your leadership of the NEA. Few better appreciate the impact design has not just on our lives, our communities -- on the country we want and the future that we want to share.

And thanks to the Mayors Institute for City Design for inviting me here today, particularly Story Bellows, as well as the Conference of Mayors and Tom Cochran. And let me thank Mayor Riley for his inspiration and commitment as well.

As a lapsed architect myself,it's an honor to help celebrate the Institute's remarkable legacy of the last quarter century -- recognizing that no one is better suited to be our cities' chief urban designers than mayors.

That we hold this celebration here in Chicago--the birthplace of the City Beautiful movement, the site of Daniel Burnham's crowning achievement in urban planning, the place where H.H. Richardson, Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright left many of their most lasting contributions to design and architecture--is particularly appropriate. 

And in Mayor Daley, this city chose a leader who not only shared the vision of the MICD -- but would not rest until it was realized here in Chicago. 

Thanks to his remarkable work, now he can rest. Your vision has been realized.

Look across the country, and you will see that Chicago has set the standard for urban design and neighborhood transformation.

Today, it's hard to believe, but before Mayor Daley took office, like so many other cities, Chicago wasn't looking ahead to the next century -- it was struggling to hold on to the current one.

Yet only 8 years later, Chicago would be recognized as "America's urban paradise" -- and is today one of America's greenest cities with more LEED-certified buildings than any other city in the United States.

Today, we have an opportunity to reflect on the steps Mayor Daley took to transform a symbol of the Rust Belt into a symbol of the 21st century global economy.

We can look forward to how the Obama Administration is planning to help Chicago's next mayor, my old colleague Rahm Emanuel, continue that progress.

And as the upcoming panel will discuss in greater detail, we can discuss what it will take to share the innovations in urban design forged by Mayor Daley and MICD here in Chicago with mayors and communities across the country.

Mayor Daley and the Chicago Transformation

So, let me begin by saying a few words about what those innovations were and why they were so important.

Only a few blocks from here lies what will rightly be considered one of Mayor Daley's crowning achievements for decades to come. 

One I know Daniel Burnham would have been proud of.

Where many saw blight--railroad tracks and parking lots--Mayor Daley saw something else:


And in building Millennium Park, he realized that possibility -- constructing not only an award-winning monument of architecture and landscape design, but a magnificent public space and an anchor for economic development.

And by building neighborhoods of choice in the areas surrounding the park and beyond, he has made investments like Millennium Park truly catalytic for the city as a whole.

Here again, where some might have only seen the price tag attached to design projects of this scale, particularly at this moment of enormous fiscal challenges for all levels of government, Mayor Daley saw a different kind of math:

The potential to create value--through tourism, property values and other local economic activity--that would more than pay for the cost of the initial investment.

And by bringing people back to Chicago's downtown, that's exactly what Millennium Park has done. In the Loop alone, an area adjacent to the park, population has increased a remarkable 76 percent.

And Mayor Daley didn't just see possibility in neighborhoods and parks yet to be designed -- he also saw neighborhoods that were standing in the way of realizing that possibility.

He realized that in too many communities in Chicago you could predict the life span of a child by the zip code they grew up in.

He realized what so many of you have:

That we can't win the future and out-educate the rest of the world when we are leaving a whole generation of kids behind in our poorest neighborhoods -- with 20 percent of children living in poverty, costing a stunning $500 billion a year and consuming 4 percent of GDP.

And so, with his public housing Plan for Transformation, Mayor Daley brought a very different frame of design to Chicago neighborhoods -- replacing isolated blocks of high rise towers with a mix of housing built along the historic grid of city streets, giving families long trapped in concentrated poverty a path to real housing choice in neighborhoods around the city.

That new frame helped the neighborhoods surrounding that housing attract the retail and commercial businesses they need to thrive and create jobs.

It helped them capitalize on their locational advantages, from their proximity to public transportation, to improving schools to walkable streets.

And it meant he would use the power of the Mayor's office to help neighborhoods attract arts institutions and artists.

As essential as artists are to teaching our kids to engage in the kind of creative thinking that is essential to economic innovation -- they're also, as Rocco says, "creative placemakers."

In cities across the country, from New York to New Orleans, we've seen when artists move in, others follow -- from families looking to raise their children in dynamic, diverse neighborhoods to young creative professionals with skills that are essential to the 21st century global economy.

In our old economy, people moved to where the jobs were. And back then, whole cities were one-company towns.

What Mayor Daley realized was that in today's economy, it's the other way around. Capital and jobs follow people, and talent is mobile. And what that talent is looking for is quality of place -- dynamic, diverse neighborhoods.

That's why nurturing a vibrant arts community in our neighborhoods isn't just about amenities or entertainment -- it's about economic development. 

It's about building cities that are successful, resilient and economically vibrant.

To steal from Rocco again, art works.

Bringing the Lessons of Chicago to Communities Nationwide

In doing all this, Mayor Daley recognized what I know many of you discussed at MacArthur's Arts and Culture in Action event earlier this week:

That linking the cultural sector to community development efforts requires leadership at the local level. 

Of course, Mayor Daley also realized something else:

That he needed a different kind of federal partner.

This audience knows that the urban renewal movement that began in the 1930's and the one-size-fits-all approach that typified federal policy in the decades to come didn't end poverty, it often entrenched poverty, isolating many families from opportunity, not for years, but for generations. 

Urban renewal saw communities not for what they were or could be, but as a tabula rasa -- a blank slate. 

But with tools like HOPE VI, that began to change. As Chicago knows from its seven public housing transformations under the program, HOPE VI wasn't just about tearing down buildings -- it was about tearing down ossified social and community development policies.

It was about making the Federal government a different kind of partner to communities -- that didn't apply its monochrome frame of design to community development, but one developed at the local level to respond to local needs.

Despite this success, the tragedy of devastated neighborhoods isn't unique to public housing. 

If you want to see that for yourself, get on the Green Line and ride it south to the last stop -- and you'll see a forlorn neighborhood called Woodlawn, which despite being just blocks from one of the world's greatest universities has seen decades of decline and neglect. Ground zero of its distress is a privately-owned, HUD subsidized housing development called Grove Parc, surrounded by boarded up and foreclosed homes.

That's why we have introduced our Choice Neighborhoods initiative, which brings to bear private capital and mixed-use, mixed income tools to transform not just public housing but all housing in a neighborhood.

And I'm proud to say that Woodlawn is a finalist in that competition. Their application proposed an innovative partnership with Hull House and the University of Chicago's Urban Education Institute to redevelop Grove Parc and transform education and health services for the families that live there.

Just last week, the architecture critic from the New York Times called Choice Neighborhoods "the most promising take on public housing in America that we've seen in decades."

Despite this promise, let me address a specter that hangs over all our discussions at this conference -- we all know these programs are under attack. For 2011, we only will have $100 million for HOPE VI and Choice Neighborhoods combined. And we're not going to transform neighborhoods of concentrated poverty around the country with funding for just four awards a year.

But right now, we estimate there is $25 billion of public and private capital sitting on the sidelines, waiting to be invested in America's affordable housing that could unleash this transformation on a much broader scale.

Here's the problem: we can't access that capital. 

Antiquated rules developed nearly a half century ago prevent anyone but the Federal government from financing improvements to public housing.

As Mayor Daley understood and as Chicago knows better than anyone, these rules haven't just stood in the way of building housing. They have also stood in the way of building anything around that housing -- the grocery stores, schools and retail businesses that communities need to thrive.

Putting an end to the era of the "superblock"--of homes disconnected from schools, jobs, transportation, and opportunity--is one big reason that the Obama Administration is proposing a demonstration in our budget to bring private capital to over a quarter-million publicly owned homes. 

It's based on a simple idea:

We can't design and build good neighborhoods if we're walling off our poorest families from the neighborhoods and the opportunity that surrounds them. 

With these new mixed-use, mixed-finance tools, all the partners we need will be at the table making a difference in the communities that need them most.

Building Stronger, More Resilient Regions

At the same time we're following your lead to make our neighborhoods stronger and better connected to opportunity, these challenges don't end at the end of the block or the city line.

That is why the Obama Administration is providing seed money that encourages communities to pool their best thinking and resources.

Because as mayors, you're designers not just of your cities -- but together, of your regions as well.

As Chicago knows all too well thanks to work of groups like the Center for Neighborhood Technology, it's no coincidence that the ghost towns of the foreclosure crisis were the most unsustainable -- with the least access to transportation, and, by extension, schools and jobs. 

Indeed, thanks to sprawl, energy costs, and a host of other factors, for every dollar the average household earns, they now spend 52 cents on housing and transportation combined. 

You all know that better urban design can link where we live to where we work in ways that are profound.

That's why the Obama Administration has just made the most significant federal investment in planning in a generation.

Last fall, HUD and the Department of Transportation awarded nearly $170 million in planning grants to ensure regions and communities across the country have more housing and transportation choices, more energy independence, and more economic competitiveness. 

And I'm proud to say that for the first time, our Regional Planning Grant program explicitly contained language encouraging the arts community to participate in the grant application process.

These funds are making a difference right here in the Chicago Metro area, where a diverse consortium including the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus, local business and civil rights leaders, and the Center for Neighborhood Technology have proposed a plan to create jobs, more walkable neighborhoods and affordable housing by capitalizing on this region's rich public transportation system.

Using a $2.3 million grant from HUD, the partnership estimates the transportation savings of 2,500 households living in housing near transit will add over $6.8 million per year to the wealth of the region, with energy-efficiency measures and improved building codes reducing household expenses even further.

This grant wouldn't have been possible without Mayor Daley's leadership to bring the region's mayors and other stakeholders together.

As so many others have in the years since, Mayor Daley realized early on that in an economy where America's metros are hotbeds of innovation--today generating 90 percent of our economic output--the time for the old fights between cities and suburbs was over -- and that the time had arrived for communities that share problems to start sharing solutions.

That explains the extraordinary demand for our grant program -- and it wasn't just coming from our largest metros. 

Over half of our regional grants were awarded to regions with populations less than 500,000 and rural places with fewer than 200,000 people -- and winners included rural counties in central Florida, Appalachian communities in western North Carolina and Native American tribes in South Dakota and Washington State, which used those funds to create its first-ever zoning code.

Cities, towns, and regions who embrace sustainable communities will have a built-in competitive edge in attracting jobs and private investment and be able to solve three or four problems with a single investment. 

This regional approach is one of the reasons Chicago is today home to more than 400 major corporations, including 28 Fortune 500 Headquarters -- demonstrating once again that infrastructure investments with the right kind of planning aren't about government that's bigger, but government that's smarter.

Designing the Future

The goal of each of these efforts is the same:

To realize possibilities for your cities and regions -- possibilities your predecessors could have only imagined.

Possibilities like jobs for the 21st century -- located closer to where we live.

 Possibilities like healthier, more inclusive neighborhoods where kids can play outside and breathe clean air -- where opportunities for people of all ages, incomes, races and ethnicities are never determined by their zip code.

As your partner, my job is clear: to help you turn possibility into reality -- so that every mayor can design the stronger, more resilient, more dynamic future for your cities that America needs to compete in the 21st century and win the future.

That is what Mayor Daley has done and what Mayor Emanuel is poised to continue doing here in Chicago.  

It's what the more than 850 mayors the MICD has graduated are doing in communities across the country.

As our cities' chief urban designers, it's what each of you does every day.

I'm proud to join each of you in designing that future.

Thank you, enjoy the panel, and enjoy the rest of the summit. 


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