I’ve done a series of lectures the last three months about Activists in City Hall, increasingly less about Boston and rather focusing on Chicago’s local “industrial policy.” These lectures were at the University of Illinois -Urbana-Champaign, Georgia Tech, Clemson, Baltimore City Planning Department,  the Urban Institute in Washington DC, and finally back at Cornell.

With the considerable stimulus offered by the encounters, questions and comments in each of these, I am starting to put the presentations into written form. One that is now taking shape — far from finished — is a paper with Robert Giloth to be presented at the Urban Affairs Association meeting in New Orleans later this week. I’ll put a short version below; you can see the longer version by hitting the link above, and we’d love your comments.

Manufacturing and National Urban Policy: 1980s Chicago (Brief Version)

Pierre Clavel[1] and Robert Giloth[2]
In the 1980s Chicago was a “progressive city.” Harold Washington won office in 1983 as the city’s first African American mayor and as a reform mayor who was dedicated to reducing the inequalities in wealth and power that had persisted under a notorious political machine government; what is less remembered is that Washington pursued redistributive objectives by incorporating neighborhood activists and their ideas.
Chicago’s approach to progressive policy focused on industrial structure: it sought to retain manufacturing jobs, typically higher paying than other blue collar sectors, in the face of regional and national  decline. On the surface,  this was less successful than some of the other cities’ efforts, as manufacturing jobs continued to decline. But Chicago’s economic development policy was a profound challenge to the practice of the day, for at least these reasons: 

  • Chicago’s policy approach countered inequality by trying to change the structure of the local economy — or at least  slow down the loss of the manufacturing base. Rather than abet the real estate boom, it articulated “jobs not real estate” as the centerpiece of city economic policy; and it sought not just any jobs, but to “build on the basics” — manufacturing jobs. 
  • Unlike most cities, the Washington administration sought a new and different political constituency — a coalition of manufacturers and their neighborhood based labor force.
  • It engaged research that challenged the underlying economic arguments and dogma of the period: that of the ‘natural’ shift of the nation’s activity from manufacturing to services sectors.
  • It tested and challenged not only local and regional, but national economic policy.
  • These local and national arguments and political issues have their echoes in 2011 as the nation tries to dig its way out of a serious recession and recreate the balance between manufacturing and other sectors in the economy.

[1] Professor Emeritus, Department of City and Regional Planning, Cornell University
[2] Vice President, Center for Family Economic Success, Annie E. Casey Foundation