I’m a city person. I’ve lived mostly in urban areas for the past 25 years. Chicago’s combination of quality of life and cost of living has made it an appealing home base. The recent development patterns, however, have reached a tipping point. Population density is increasing out of sync with the implementation of new public amenities like open space, public transportation, and a sense of neighborhood identity. Chicago is peaking, with its benefits being threatened by the drive to increase the tax base without investing in the infrastructure that will sustain and amplify its appeal. Walking around certain downtown areas, I often wonder if the recent inflow of corporate headquarters will reverse back to the suburbs as valued workforce members start demanding better schools, open spaces, transportation options and stronger sense of community. When I return from various travels, I’m increasingly experiencing a sort of dull anxiety. It’s the same feeling I get when I arrive in New York City, the surfacing of a sustained, heightened state that is required to navigate the congestion and barriers. When I lived in New York, I worked hard to earn as much as possible in order to spend it on living as comfortably as possible. As airlines have come to embrace, money can buy exemptions from otherwise less pleasant experiences. But wealth will not save us. We’re on this plane together. Sustainability is first and fundamentally about insuring a greater quality of life for everyone, or should be. We need to create accessible and affordable neighborhoods, and have the courage to realize that density without amenity, in time, is its own end game.
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