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Dick Simpson

Dick Simpson

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Dreams for a New Chicago

Posted: 04/22/11 05:56 PM ET

This column originally appeared in the Chicago Journal.

This cold Chicago spring is giving birth to more than hardy flowers and greener grass.

Rahm Emanuel is not the only person plotting a rebirth for the city. New aldermen from Ameya Pawar (47th) to Will Burns (4th) have transition teams planning to bring about a better city council, local democracies in their wards, and environmental improvements. The formerly weak independent-bloc aldermen are planning a one-day training school for these 18 new aldermen so they can hit the ground running on May 16. To paraphrase President Obama, change and hope are in the air.

As Mayor Richard M. Daley runs his victory lap through the neighborhoods, power is shifting uncertainly for the first time in two decades. Citizens, scholars and politicians are free to imagine a new Chicago.

Artist Bob Kameczura, who helped me pass legislation 40 years ago creating the "1 Percent for Art" program and a founding member of the Chicago Artists Coalition, has come up with a bold vision to help the arts. Here are a few of his ideas:

  • Create neighborhood arts centers in library-sized buildings and in storefronts to house resident groups of theater, dance, music, and the visual arts -- spaces where they can perform, teach, rehearse and exhibit. In the 47th Ward the old Hild Library has been transformed into the Old Town School for Folk Music, for instance.
  • Create "Chicago Art and Craft Shops" like the Illinois Artisans' Shop at the State of Illinois building. Put them on the North, South and West sides of Chicago and on Navy Pier to showcase and sell the work of Chicago artists and craftsmen.
  • Have CAN-TV, the city's TV station, upgraded to make available a studio with equipment so art groups can make their videos and also provide equipment to film art and performance art through the city. Artists and art groups can then use television to highlight their work and build audiences.
  • Provide more live/work space for artists at prices below-market rates, as the municipal government in Toronto does.
  • Have the mayor arrange for Chicago art in his office and in City Hall. The art would be chosen in an annual "Art in City Hall" contest, with winners displayed for a year.
  • Create and sell posters of life in Chicago in the 21st Century to create more iconic images to show Chicago as a cultural hub of the Midwest. The city would sponsor a yearly "Chicago Poster" contest.


Bob's longer treatise is well thought out and bubbles over with dozens of ideas for promoting the arts.

Meanwhile, residents of the 25th Ward have Ald. Danny Solis' promise of a new Clean Air ordinance to eliminate the pollution of the power plant in their ward. A few blocks away, Ald. Walter Burnett (27th) plans to pass an ordinance to increase affordable housing throughout Chicago.

Lost causes are reborn, new ideas burst forth in spring. Chicagoans have awakened to the realization that it is a new century and with this historic moment comes new possibilities. Soon enough will come the crashing realities of structural budget deficits and reestablished power arrangements in which an Emperor Emanuel might replace a Boss Daley.

Transition team plans may be forgotten and citizen voices ignored once more. But on this cold spring day there is hope for a new beginning.

As Daniel Burnham urged, let us make no little plans, for they have no power to stir people's souls. Let us create grand democratic schemes from every community and neighborhood. But let's also think of those small projects not yet completed on our block to which we can turn our energies and efforts. Let green shoots come between the cracks of cruel concrete.

We are entering the post-Daley era and in this moment of transition, dreams come more freely. We can imagine a new and better Chicago: a global city waiting to bloom.