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Archive for February, 2008

GLUE friend Hugh McMullen, of Valerie Denney Communications in Chicago, sent us the below message regarding a not-to-be-overlooked event that, while in DC, is close to the Great Lakes heart. Hugh is going to be producing live reports on the events of Great Lakes Day, which you can check out at a blog created just for the occasion. From Hugh:

Great Lakes Day in Washington is when folks from all over the region go to DC and lobby their representatives to support Great Lakes Restoration efforts. This year GL Day is Thursday, February 28, although people are already in DC meeting and gearing up. We thought we’d use the event this year to spread the word online about Great Lakes Restoration and how people in the region can help out. We’ll be hearing from campaign leaders about legislative efforts, reports and new findings, and what people in specific cities and areas are doing for the cause. We’ll also be covering a report from Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative that examines how much local governments are spending to clean up the Lakes versus how much the federal government is spending.

We hope to generate materials you can use to talk about the issue and helpful information from leaders about getting the word out politically.

So check out the blog, grab our RSS feed, check out our YouTube page, and check back here throughout the next few days. Also leave some comments and let us know what you’d like to hear about. Thanks!

We’ve gone ahead and grabbed that RSS feed, and will feature it in our sidebar so long as they keep posting. Enjoy!

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Check out today’s New York Times editorial page for an impassioned, spot-on appeal for an urban agenda in the Presidential election: “The cities have been the hardest hit as federal policies have failed or gone missing in education, housing, health care, jobs, transportation and environment, to name a few. Yet urban issues have gotten scant attention in this campaign.”

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Across the Midwest, metropolitan regions like Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Buffalo, New York, have struggled with attracting and retaining young professionals. They’re concerned – and rightfully so – that bright, young people born and raised in their cities will be wooed straight out of university by big companies (and bright lights) in New York, San Francisco or L.A.

Cities in the Great Lakes region are right to address the underlying push-pull factors contributing to this trend, such as lack of job opportunities, transportation access and affordable housing. Yet, another kind of brain drain threatens even cities like Chicago, which have been successful in attracting young professionals.

The academic achievement gap between poor and wealthy, white and black, immigrant and citizen is a national embarrassment; nowhere has it been more egregious than in Illinois, which has consistently posted among the worst student achievement gaps in the nation. Statewide and in Chicago, many young people never have a fighting chance to graduate high school, let alone earn a college degree. Thousands of minds are lost every year, leading one to wonder how successful this region could be if more students had the opportunity to become educated for the 21st Century economy.

One of the major factors contributing to the achievement gap is the state’s broken school funding system, which over-relies on property taxes to fund education. In Illinois, communities with a healthy tax base can afford to provide their students with all the bells and whistles of a modern education, while disinvested communities struggle to provide even basic necessities such as updated text books. Some schools in wealthy communities spend almost five times more per student than their counterparts in less affluent communities.

In short, the quality of an Illinois child’s education directly relates to his or her ZIP code.

Most Americans would agree that fixing Illinois’ achievement gap is a moral mandate. Yet arguments of moral obligation have, so far, failed to sway state lawmakers.

There’s good news, though: in the past year or two, state leaders seem to be coming around to the fact that Illinois’ economy, its future workforce, and its ability to compete in an increasingly global marketplace are inextricably tied to solving the school funding mess. What’s more, the huge increases in immigration that Chicago and Illinois have experienced have added a layer of urgency to addressing the state’s achievement gap.

Consider that:

· Over a lifetime, a high school dropout in Illinois earns 45 percent less than a high school graduate;

· If current gaps in educational attainment persist, Illinois’ personal income per capita is projected to drop by 2 percent from 2000 to 2020; and

· An Illinois high school graduate will pay $208,000 more in income and payrolls taxes, including $43,392 more in Illinois state income tax, over their lifetime as a result of increased earning potential.

Restructuring the state’s tax system to decrease education’s over-reliance on property taxes would give more students in Illinois a fighting chance at getting a decent education. Along with improving our transit system and ensuring homes are available at all price points, addressing the achievement gap is essential to truly combat the brain drain.

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Three main ingredients are essential to spur the economic development that each of our Great Lakes cities sorely needs: smart people, good ideas and financing. I will talk here about one possible piece to the financing puzzle.

Tax Increment Financing (TIF) is a tool at the disposal of municipal governments throughout the United States. In the seven-county Milwaukee region alone, over $8.5 billion of property wealth is flowing toward TIF districts. These districts fund industrial, retail, residential and office real estate development in both urban and rural settings. Some criticize TIF as “corporate welfare” and, indeed, in some cases the tool has been wielded improperly. Fortunately, TIF is being increasingly used by cities to fund ambitious and far-sighted community development projects.

The challenge is to move beyond thinking of TIF as merely a “project-based” tool and start thinking of it as a way to achieve regional and community development goals, as we build our niche in the global marketplace. Proactive regional leadership is vital to achieving such a paradigm shift. TIF can be an powerful tool for the evolution of our cities.

We can look outside our region for an illustration: Atlanta has long been known for its dynamic business environment and explosive growth. However, it is also known for sprawl, air pollution, lack of greenspace and traffic congestion. In an effort to address these “quality of life” issues and reassert the region’s competitive position, the City of Atlanta recently approved the creation of a TIF for its “BeltLine” project. The BeltLine is currently the largest redevelopment project in the United States. It will encompass 8% of the city’s total land area, and generate $1.7 billion dollars in revenue. The project will transform a ring of blighted and underutilized land encircling the city to multi-use trails, parks, transit improvements, affordable workforce housing and Atlanta Public Schools projects. In what promises to be the most ambitious use of TIF in the country, after 25 years the BeltLine Tax Allocation District (TAD) will contain over $20 billion of increment value—twice the size of the City of Buffalo. Atlanta’s BeltLine TAD is not only big, it’s also innovative and is continually cited as a model for transparency, accountability and public involvement.

At this point, it might be wise for all of us to dream a bit. What are the Upper Midwest’s most pressing issues? What are our development goals? How can TIF be used to make those dreams a reality? It seems to be working in Atlanta as a community development tool – so why not here?

TIF may be a dry topic, but we can talk all day about people and ideas, and still, very little economic development could happen without financing.

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For Immediate Release: February 14, 2008

Don’t Stop With the Compact:
‘Rustbelt’ Cities Coalition Thanks Presidential Frontrunners for Supporting Great Lakes Compact,
Calls for Regional Urban Agenda in Three Upcoming Great Lakes Primaries:

Wisconsin: February 19
Ohio: March 4
Pennsylvania: April 22

Thursday, February 14th – With the eyes of the nation fixed on the increasingly influential Wisconsin, Ohio, and Pennsylvania primaries, members of the Great Lakes Urban Exchange (GLUE) network urge Presidential frontrunners of both parties to develop an agenda for the urban revitalization of the post-industrial cities of the nation’s freshwater basin, and to make that agenda public as soon as possible.

The Great Lakes Compact, to which Senators Clinton, McCain and Obama all pledge support, would ban diversions and establish fair, consistent, and binding rules for Great Lakes water use. State legislatures across eight states are in the process of approving the Great Lakes Compact, which will also require U.S. Congressional approval.

Commitment to the Great Lakes Compact, GLUE members argue, is a laudable but incomplete idea portfolio for a region that boasts 33% of the country’s population, 90% of its freshwater, 36% of its advanced degrees, and close to 40 million urban dwellers. The US cannot afford to ignore the challenges this region faces.

“The economic potential of the Great Lakes region will not be fully realized unless water protection is paired with inclusive and innovative reinvestment in cities like Milwaukee, Erie, and Youngstown,” said Pittsburgh native Abby Wilson, Co-Founder of GLUE. “The shared potential of our region’s environmental and human capital is truly extraordinary, but untapped – partly because our cities are struggling. The region’s cities should be the laboratory, the nucleus, and the expression of that possibility.”

Official campaign websites of Senators Clinton and Obama reveal “rural” issue platforms that address economic development and quality of life, yet neither they nor Senator McCain have established a similar forum for “urban” proposals, let alone one for Great Lakes cities specifically.

“Even today, Midwestern states send more of their tax dollars to the federal government than they receive in return investment,” said Ryan Horton, Senior Policy Researcher at the Public Policy Forum, Milwaukee resident, and GLUE team member. “It is critical that our 44th president, whether Democrat or Republican, is prepared to implement an urban reinvestment strategy the day he or she takes office.”

“Across the world, the number of people moving to cities drastically outpaces the ability of infrastructure to support them. Yet my city and others like it are fighting tooth and nail to stave off population decline,” Detroit native and GLUE Co-Founder Sarah Szurpicki said. “We can’t continue to sideline this region as our nation evolves in the 21st century.”

GLUE, a coalition comprised of post-boomer urbanists located in the “rustbelt,” was founded to promote the power, aide in the positive transformation, and address the shared challenges of similarly-storied older industrial cities situated in the Great Lakes watershed. Among the ranks of GLUE coalition members are community organizers, urban planners, artists, environmentalists, entrepreneurs, and students living and working in over twenty cities in ten states. GLUE operates on four guiding principles:

Urbanism: Cities are our world’s economic drivers. Decision makers cannot afford to underestimate their value nor overlook their needs.

Regionalism: Great Lakes urban centers need to overcome outlooks of despair and isolation by forging a shared perspective and developing strength in numbers.

Storytelling: White papers alone cannot propel an agenda, particularly for the emerging generation of leadership. No need is expressed more powerfully than via human narrative.

Network Building: Connecting people and institutions who share challenges and objectives will foster regional collaboration and transfer examples of success throughout the basin.

GLUE was developed in the fall of 2007 as a forum for people to exchange stories, ideas, and best practices between otherwise isolated cities ranging from Buffalo to St. Louis to Minneapolis. GLUE’s permanent online home is in development at Detroit’s College for Creative Studies. Visit GLUE’s temporary blog for a complete list of involved cities and the latest on their activities.

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GL, how do I love thee?

In the spirit of the day, please write a valentine to your very dearest Great Lakes city, Great Lakes state, to the Great Lakes region, or to a Great Lake!

Please share your loving valentine as a comment to this post.

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