At a time when Chicago and cities around the world face an array of vexing problems, Mayor Richard M. Daley challenged civic and intellectual leaders at the University’s Future of the City symposium to climb a little higher and look beyond the obstacles of the moment.
Held in the Chicago Cultural Center, the Future of the City symposium, sponsored by the Harris School of Public Policy Studies and the Office of Civic Engagement, gathered thought leaders for conversations on education, municipal finance, and the next generation of leaders.
The conference provided a poignant moment for Daley to reflect on his mayoral tenure, the longest in Chicago history. With first lady Maggie Daley and daughter Nora sitting feet away, the mayor recited with pride the many achievements of his administration, which will conclude later this year. He also talked candidly of the challenges that remain, and took a moment to say he wished he had focused earlier on public education.
As the day progressed and a historic blizzard brewed outside, many minds turned to those immediate challenges facing city leaders.
But for the most part, the symposium’s participants took the opportunity to imagine what lies ahead for generations to come, and how to carry today’s successes through the new century.
“I think the future prospect for a young person growing up in Chicago is exceptional. I think we live in one of the great cities of the world,” said Brad Keywell, a director and co-founder of Groupon, Inc., the Chicago-based Internet startup that has become one of the fastest-growing businesses in history. “If we have great ideas, the worst thing we can do is not speak up.”
Throughout the day, speakers returned to the theme of ideas and knowledge as Chicago’s greatest assets.
“The strength of the American economy in 2050 will be the knowledge that we have put into our children’s heads,” Harvard economist and urban expert Edward Glaeser said in his keynote address.
Boldness, and the need to redefine the scope of reforms also repeated as motifs throughout the day. Daley pointed out that even as urban leaders rethink public schools, there is a need to reframe education as something that takes place in homes, churches, libraries, parks and recreational centers. Harris Professor Christopher Berry pointed out that in Cook County, with as many as 1,500 taxing entities, it is not only about how much we pay for government, but who we are paying, and why.
The importance of teamwork among government, businesses, community groups, educational institutions and cultural organizations also weaved a thread through the conversations.
Daley singled out the University of Chicago for its direct research contributions to the city, especially in education and gun violence, as well as its spirit of partnership with both city leaders and the community. He summed up the University’s service in the direct language that has become familiar to Chicagoans over more than two decades.
“This institution has given more, I believe, than any other institution in the history of our city,” Daley said.