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Chicago Footnotes

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

"Washington's administration broke with the traditional Chicago growth machine on various issues ... [T]he administration killed plans to revitalize Navy Pier and for a World's Fair."

Dominic A. Pacyga, Chicago: A Biography

This is a great book on Chicago. I'll definitely devote a posting or two to its Chicago story. One short section, however, rang a bit false to me, maybe because I played a small part in the mayoral administration of Harold Washington and maybe because this brief era seems more important to me, even now, than a couple of paragraphs. But that's history.

There are a few factual problems in this section: Jesse Jackson did not lead the voter registration campaign in the African American community that was central to Washington's success in 1983 -- lots of people and leaders played important roles. Rob Mier's name is misspelled. James Rouse's deal for Navy Pier was infeasible -- and Washington led a Navy Pier Task Force to identify alternatives. The World's Fair died of its own bad assumptions once they were exposed to the light of day.

I think the phrase "balanced growth" better describes the development approach of the Washington administration -- in contrast to what had come before that exclusively focused downtown and at the airport. Neighborhood voice and institutions played a key role, but the were not the only development actors. Pacyga does underscore the lasting importance of our work for protecting manufacturing areas and industrial corridors.

My dissenting perspective on the Council War's days is that competition inspired creativity and innovation -- probably some instability as well. That was a good thing in a strange way. Getting Council majority prompted a certain complacency. Of course, we'll never know the full potential of the Washington era because of Harold's untimely death.