CHICAGO (CBS) — From stepping up investment on the South and West sides and improving access to mental health resources to expanding the city’s transportation and logistics sector and luring more corporate development, the mayor’s COVID-19 Recovery Task Force has issued a sweeping report for how Chicago can bounce back from the pandemic.
Comparing the road ahead to the city’s resurgence after the Great Chicago Fire, the 104-page report outlines a series of recommendations for how Chicago can restore itself in the wake of the economic toll the virus has taken.
“We can’t move forward, unless we think holistically, about how we heal our region from top to bottom,” Lightfoot said Thursday morning as she and the task force unveiled the report. “This crisis truly does afford us a once-in-a-generation opportunity to really rethink and remake the landscape of Chicago.”
Many of the challenges the city now faces existed before the pandemic hit, but have only been deepened by the effects of COVID 19, as well as the widespread civil unrest Chicago and other cities faced after the death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis.
The report notes Black and Brown communities were hit particularly by the virus, further exposing disparities in their access to health care and other necessities.
“In virtually every measure – from economic and food security to access to broadband and mental health services – Chicago’s communities of color are faring the worst, a wrong that must be righted with meaningful transformation and change,” the report states.
Lightfoot said addressing the deep racial divides exposed by the pandemic and the response to Floyd’s death is a top priority for the city moving forward.
“We need to make sure that Black and Brown young men recognize that their life’s journey doesn’t have to end at a corner, that it can and must end at a college or career. That’s critically important for us to really build a healthy, vibrant community that deals everybody into the prosperity of this great city,” she said.
The mayor said the virus has created not just one disaster, but two: a public health crisis and an economic one.
“COVID-19 has been a crisis unlike anything we’ve ever experienced; shocking in some ways that even past recessions depressions two world wars never did,” Lightfoot said.
The report outlines several recommendations across five “priority areas” for Chicago:
- Addressing “new and old traumas” by creating the most advanced “healing-centered region in the country,” increasing access to mental and emotional health resources, and creating a more diverse and culturally sensitive mental health workforce.
- Expanding economic opportunity and quality employment, by reimagining the region’s workforce infrastructure, creating a plan to invest in displaced and young workers, increasing construction ownership and employment opportunities for Black and Brown workers, creating a more vibrant minority-owned business community, and expanding innovative relief programs to strengthen the social safety net.
- Building on the region’s existing strengths, by expanding the Chicago area’s transportation, distribution, and logistics sector; strengthening the local healthcare and life-sciences ecosystem; and building on the region’s food and agriculture assets.
- Capturing new opportunities created by the pandemic, by building on the region’s historic strength in manufacturing, luring new HQ2s and corporate development centers, and expanding the city’s film and TV production opportunities given the lack of studio space in places like California.
- Reigniting activity throughout Chicago, by introducing a new “master brand” for the city; reimagining the tourism, travel, and hospitality industry; developing new and existing neighborhood hubs to increase tourism in the neighborhoods; and show the world Chicago is open for business.
“This will be the kind of transformation that generations from now will be talking about as a second Chicago renaissance. This is our moment. This is our opportunity to really rise to the occasion, and I’m excited about the work ahead,” Lightfoot said.
The ambitious report does not outline how the city will pay for any of its goals – many of which would be expensive in the best of times – when Chicago is already facing a $700 million budget shortfall this year alone due to the pandemic.
However, the mayor said the report will help the city prioritize its spending choices going forward.
“When you look at the choices that we make on investments, there are resources that are available. What I think this task force has made us focus on is how do we prioritize our investments, how do we prioritize our expenses,” she said. “We have no choice but to make these investments if we want to grow our economy; if we want to create a ready, willing, and able workforce; and if we want to create an environment where people feel like their economic stake and their livelihoods can be in Chicago.”
The report’s authors dubbed it a call to action for the public and private sectors to team up to do what’s best for Chicago.
The task force was co-chaired by Samuel Skinner, a longtime Lightfoot friend who also served as White House chief of staff and U.S. Transportation Secretary for former President George H.W. Bush.
“I look at this as an opportunity because times are changing. This is giving us an opportunity to figure out how they’re changing, and what we’re going to do to be part of the change, and to be and become the leading city, the number one city in the world to come back from this with a plan,” Skinner said.
You can read the full task force report below: