Opinion: Chicago Less Livable After Year of Rahm

I was asked to write a retrospective on Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s first year. It won’t be the first. Crain’s Chicago Business, ABC 7, the Sun-Times and the Tribune have already published theirs. They were all written by City Hall reporters, who graded the mayor on how well he’s accomplished goals such as lengthening the school day, rooting out corruption, balancing the budget, changing the way in which the city pays for public works. When you spend most of your time in City Hall, those probably seem like the most important issues facing the city.

But I don’t spend most of my time in City Hall. I spend most of my time in my neighborhood, dealing with the hassles that Chicagoans deal with every day -- parking, garbage collection, snow removal, gang violence. So I have a different standard for judging Emanuel’s anniversary: Is Chicago a better place to live in than it was a year ago? My answer: before this year, I would never have considered moving to the suburbs. Now, I would.

Gang violence is one reason. Chicago’s murder rate was 60 percent higher in the first three months of this year than it was during the same period last year. Three of those murders occurred within two blocks of me. For the first time, ever, I found myself reluctant to walk around my neighborhood at night. An elected official’s number one job is keeping his constituents safe, and Chicago feels less safe than it did before Emanuel became mayor.

Reduced city services are another. Emanuel attempted to close libraries on Mondays, but was forced to relent by the City Council. Still, Monday library hours are down to half a day, and libraries don’t open until noon on Wednesdays. We’re getting less from the city, even as it raised school property taxes and increased vehicle sticker fees.

Then there’s driving. Emanuel can’t be blamed for the parking meters that are leeching the lifeblood out of Chicago’s motorists and neighborhood commercial strips. Nor can he be blamed for red light cameras. He can be blamed for the “Child Safety Zones” which will target people going 6 miles an hour over the speed limit around schools and parks. Now that the city is so aggressively targeting motorists as a revenue source, I’ve started running most of my errands in the suburbs, to avoid the hassle. (On the other hand, the anti-car offensive inspired me to buy a bicycle, which attests to the success of Emanuel’s efforts to make Chicago the most bike-friendly city in America.)

Would I now move to the suburbs, so I can stop worrying about getting shot by the Gangster Disciples, visit my local library at 9 a.m., and not sweat a parking ticket when I drove to the neighborhood hardware store? I’m not planning to, but I’m no longer ruling it out, either.

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