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Economy

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The business of prognosticating where our region is headed can be perilous.

Few of us would have predicted 25 years ago that so many commuters would be “multitasking” — driving to work and talking on cordless telephones clipped to their belts with a speaker and microphone plugged in one ear.

And we might have laughed at anyone predicting that every other person on the sidewalk would be listening to music coming from tiny boxes capable of holding 15,000 different songs.

What does the future hold for the Chicago region 25 years from now?

Chicago Metropolis 2020

I don’t know what will be plugged in commuters’ ears, but I am concerned their daily commute will become even more time consuming and more of a drag on our economy. Such a scenario will become reality unless we act together — and now — as a region to respond to problems like the daily commute.

Chicago Metropolis 2020 does not rely on a crystal ball or psychics. Instead, we have used the best available data and enlisted a variety of experts to assess the economic and social conditions in our region and explain how transportation, housing, the environment and education are connected to each other, as well as to the health of the whole region.

Our report, The Metropolis Plan: Choices for the Chicago Region, makes some bleak predictions about what will happen absent change in land use and transportation policies. We’ll have regional gridlock by the year 2030. Economic growth will be strangled, and our quality of life will suffer greatly.

However, The Metropolis Plan also describes the benefits of what can happen if we refuse to accept “business as usual.”

Changes in policy now can save the average family $1,000 a year in travel-related expenses, and lower local infrastructure costs by $4 billion, a savings to all taxpayers. We also could spend more time with our families by shortening projected commute time by 155 fewer hours in a car per year, the equivalent of four work weeks, and we could spare 300 square miles of open space from otherwise certain development.

If those improvements are to become reality, we will need to make a variety of policy changes like investing in strong regional centers that have solid infrastructure, good access to transportation and available vacant land. That would mean more investment in cities like Joliet, Aurora, Naperville, Schaumburg and Waukegan.

We need to remove regulatory distortions to the housing market that limit housing choices; to attract more riders to modernized public transit; to build more housing and retail businesses around our 380 rail stations; and to spread the expressway traffic burden more evenly throughout the day.

Since the release of our Metropolis Plan, there have been some strong indications that the region has begun to recognize the wisdom of making changes like these. In 2005, Chicago Metropolis 2020 worked with local elected officials to enact state legislation creating the Regional Planning Board. By making this one body responsible for both land-use planning and transportation planning, we will increase the likelihood that we finally will have comprehensive, long-term planning that can address our region’s congestion.

The Regional Planning Board is a first step.

Business leaders throughout the region should embrace the policy changes called for in The Metropolis Plan.

In business, we don’t always have ample warning of what the future will bring. But when a business is alerted to the need for a course correction, good managers will always embrace change and will not settle for business as usual.

The same is true of our region. We must not be satisfied with business as usual.

George A. Ranney President
and CEO, Chicago Metropolis 2020

Note: To learn more about Chicago Metropolis 2020 and read The Metropolis Plan: Choices for the Chicago Region, visit www.chicagometropolis2020.org.

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