“Maurice Cox, the highly regarded, design-savvy urban planner who Mayor Lori Lightfoot lured away from Detroit to spread the wealth to the city’s South and West sides, could be Chicago’s most consequential urban planner in decades.
“But, he admits, he’s still learning the city’s street names.
“In his first in-depth Chicago interview, coming days after Lightfoot announced a $750 million plan to revitalize 10 battered business districts on the South and West sides, Cox expressed publicly what he’s been telling audiences privately: He sees Chicago as having a heart (its booming downtown) and a soul (its motley collection of neighborhoods). And the soul will be his prime focus.
“Cox will oversee downtown, but will delegate day-to-day responsibility to a deputy, allowing him to concentrate on the task of reversing the decades of discrimination, decay and disinvestment that have plagued minority neighborhoods.
““I think we have to first stop the bleeding,” Cox said, sitting in a conference room in the Department of Planning and Development’s 10th floor offices at City Hall. “We have to give residents a sense of where their neighborhood is going.”
“In the interview, Cox touched on a wide range of other development topics:
“The Obama Presidential Center offers a “once in generation” chance to revitalize the South Side, he said, so he hopes Chicagoans can move past the debate over whether the center should be built in Jackson Park. “As far as I’m concerned, let’s consider that decision done and look more at the benefits and how we can assure that it doesn’t just sit as a building in a park, but that it has a catalytic role in reimagining an economic center for the South Side.”
“A “preservationist at heart,” he’s open to the idea of saving the much-maligned James R. Thompson Center and adding a high-rise that would boost its value. If Lightfoot agrees, her administration could be on a collision course with state officials who want to sell the 34-year-old Helmut Jahn-designed postmodern building to a developer, possibly for a tear-down.
“Tax-increment financing that subsidizes the cost of roads and other infrastructure is well-suited for the planned redevelopment of the former Michael Reese Hospital site at 31st Street and Lake Shore Drive, Cox said, because new housing and public spaces there would benefit the nearby Bronzeville neighborhood. In contrast, he indirectly criticized the $1.3 billion TIF deal for the massive Lincoln Yards project on the North Side, which the City Council approved and Lightfoot signed off on before she took office. “I would like to see TIF used to advance a more equitable distribution throughout the city,” Cox said. “It’s a very different model than ‘let’s cluster everything at the heart and then — the soul, we can forget about it.’”