Millennium Park is a triumph of public relations.
For example, in interviews with civic leaders a few years ago, it wasn't hard to discern the script when virtually each one repeated the notion that once finished Millennium Park would be the new postcard picture of Chicago. And that no matter what the final bill, the cost would be worth it. When I heard my former editor atChicago magazine repeat that last one one day, I knew the meme had set in.
But is it true? Of course not. At what point, I would ask the citizenry, would it not have been worth it? At $750 million? At a billion?
Let's say you find the current cost of $475 million "worth it." But you would balk at a cool billion.
Well, consider that we're not done paying for Millennium Park yet. Those parking garages aren't bringing in the expected revenue, andthe park is operating at a deficit. When all is said and done, a billion dollars may not be out of sight.
Will that be worth it?
Did we at some point decide that the mayor could have a blank check for a downtown park, but not for schools, health care, affordable housing, or a larger, better police force? Or to
maintain the parks we have?
Even the private funding that has gone into Millennium Park comes from somewhere – your employer, perhaps.
What if we put that money and more towards building the greatest schools the planet has ever seen? Couldn't those be the postcards of a new Chicago?
I like Millennium Park fine, but we could have had 60 fantastic neighborhood parks for that money, and they would have gotten as much use. I know the people who live in neighborhoods that need parks don't take pictures for postcards.
The argument, I suppose, is that the tourists spend the money and then the money goes to the schools and the parks everywhere and whatnot, but it never seems to be the case. The tourists spend the money which goes to more things for the tourists to spend money on.