Opinion: Make Chicago ‘world class’ for its residents

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Conversations around the proposed high-speed rail project from O’Hare Airport to downtown have prompted new proclamations about Chicago’s need to become a “world-class city.” Perhaps we should be prioritizing initiatives that would make Chicago truly world class, not just for those passing through, but for the millions who live in the city’s neighborhoods.

New Aviation Commissioner Ginger Evans has called the multibillion-dollar project “essential infrastructure.” I would argue that while this project would be beneficial to our regional economy, “essential infrastructure” should prioritize those projects that directly affect the quality of life for residents in the neighborhoods, especially in this era of financial difficulty where priorities are crucial.

Many neighborhoods lack key telecommunications infrastructure such as broadband access and overall connectivity that could actually help spur development in those areas — particularly the establishment of small businesses who can enhance the quality of goods and services provided to a community.


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Maintaining our streets continues to be a challenge that affects transit time, quality, and safety (i.e. the major sinkhole that swallowed three vehicles on a neighborhood street two years ago). Developing innovative ways to minimize structural damage to our roads and decrease frequency of repairs could save the city significantly and improve transit time for residents getting around the city.

Reviewing the numerous cuts in service for CTA that have made it more difficult for residents to get work is essential infrastructure. Addressing the massive issues with our antiquated drainage systems that result in flooded streets, flooded parks, and flooded basements every time we’re hit with a major storm is “essential” infrastructure.

A high-speed rail project can be good for the city (though 30 minutes to or from O’Hare doesn’t seem like such a drastic improvement from the blue line or a taxi). But with the projected price tag and our city’s dire financial circumstances, it is perhaps prudent to focus our efforts on infrastructure projects that are essential to enhancing the quality of life and create more investment and development opportunities in all areas of the city — not just downtown.

Amara Enyia is a public policy consultant.

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