Without vision, the Bible teaches, the people perish. And in Chicago, Detroit, Atlanta, Newark and cities across the country, the people are perishing.
Each week in Chicago, we witness more pain. Teachers are laid off and schools are closed. Transit workers are terminated and bus service is cut. Families lose their homes, and thousands remain underwater, unable to refinance mortgages greater than the worth of their home. Hospital budgets are shut, and costs go up. Summer Pell grants are cut, and students drop out into an economy with no jobs. Schools cut athletics and music and afterschool programs, and can’t understand why more students drop out. Parking meters are sold off, and parking becomes unaffordable.
In the pain, we start turning on each other. Parents revolt as administrators pretend that school closings are progressive reforms. Teachers strike against schools without adequate textbooks or libraries. Banks hound homeowners to collect on subprime loans that were peddled fraudulently by agents who targeted African Americans and Latinos for higher rates. The cities head into a hot summer with more unemployed youth, fewer summer programs, fewer jobs programs, less hope and more dope.
The supposed recovery hasn’t reached the people. The new jobs offer less pay, less security and fewer benefits than the ones that were lost. African-American families lost nearly a third of their wealth between 2007 and 2010. (Hispanic families lost more than 40 percent). A fragile middle class has been devastated. Investors and corporate CEOs clean up. The top 1 percent have captured all of the income growth over the first two years coming out of the recession and then some.
We cannot cut our way to a prosperous economy or a healthy city. We can’t cut our way to good schools, safe streets or affordable health care. We have to find another way.
In Washington, investigations reveal how Apple and other corporations transfer billions abroad to avoid paying taxes. Apple’s CEO says this is all at least arguably legal. What he doesn’t say is that the companies spend millions on lobbyists and campaign contributions to rig the rules. We don’t have that power. We must see our way through — and mobilize people to act.
In Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel is sparring with teachers, transit workers, parents, students, the young and the old. If the city doesn’t blow, some say he might profit politically by looking tough. But that won’t revive the city. No one will gain or profit morally by looking tough.
It would be wise if President Barack Obama and Emanuel convened a summit to create a prototype for urban policy. A meeting of stakeholders and key leaders from HUD, the Department of Justice, the Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services. The aim would be to put forth a vision of what must be done, a plan for how to do it, and a budget that lays out the costs. We should make this a model for cities across the country.
The summit should assess the assets of Chicago — not simply our budget and tax base, but also public pension funds, what the government, hospitals and universities buy, and how we can use that money to anchor our economy — and put people to work. It should lay out what we expect from the state and the federal government — and what it will cost to rebuild the public sinews of our economy — from schools to public transit to hospitals to training. It should pave the way for robust urban development.
It’s time for vision, for a plan, for some hope. Let’s have the summit before the city explodes, not after.