Notes From Chicago

Last week I went on my first City to City trip organized by the Chamber of Commerce. The delegation was comprised of 80 “San Jose Cheerleaders,” including Mayor Reed, four councilmembers (besides myself), City Manager, Police Chief, high-tech representatives, affordable housing developers, attorneys,etc. Interestingly enough, about 20 percent percent of the group lives in District 6.

Before I decided to travel, I researched the purpose of the trip. Because I am an advocate of web conferencing, I wanted to see if travelling for this trip was necessary. Travelling to Chicago was necessary since the purpose of the trip was to experience the physical City of Chicago, like walking Cabrini Green, Millennium Park, Green Rooftops and other destination points in Chicago.

The purpose of the City to City trip is to visit a different city each year to see what they do best and possibly emulate their positive aspects in San Jose.  I did not go last year.

Chicago is a great city that does have its own problems including budget shortfalls and an escalating crime rate.  Unlike San Jose, Chicago is responsible for it’s public schools, has a massive skyline, and has more steakhouses than Starbucks.

A few “snapshots” that I learned about Chicago.
• Mayor Daley has been at the helm of Chicago for almost 20 years.
• The Mayor is the head of all city departments and there is no city manager. 
• Elected officials do not have term limits in Chicago and they have 50 alderman (coucilmembers).
• Chicago O’Hare airport has 3400 flights a day vs. San Jose, which has 156 flights a day.
• They use surveillance cameras to fight crime.
• $2,500 fine for illegal dumping or they impound your car.
• City employees must live in Chicago.
• Civilian city employees are allowed to manage street closures allowing sworn police to stay on the beat.
• Largest convention center in the US.
• One of four global cities bidding on the 2016 Olympic games where Chicago see this as a way to build more infrastructure.
• Chicago privatized Midway Airport and leased out the Skyway toll road

Chicago and San Jose both use tax increment financing (TIF) to fund redevelopment.  Chicago invests a billion dollars per year on infrastructure funded by TIF. Some of that money is spent on streetscapes and sidewalks. Block after block had planter boxes with flowers. Every block was immaculate. It was interesting to me that in a big union city like Chicago, they allowed competition for 25 percent of the landscape maintenance, or in other words, outsourcing.

Like San Jose, Chicago has been generous in providing affordable housing. Important to note however, is that Cabrini Green, a well-known affordable housing area, had developed the highest crime rate in the city. In an effort to cut down on crime, Chicago negotiated with HUD and knocked down “the projects.” The City gave all the residents Section 8 vouchers to find temporary housing.

Now, Chicago is reconstructing new affordable housing that is mixed with residents who purchase units market price and at discounted price. The old residents are invited back to occupy units as affordable renters. The affordable units are sold at $190-$220K and the market rate units are sold at $350K. Unfortunately, the timing could not be worse with the collapse of the housing market and mortgage lending. An important point, in my opinion, is that Chicago does not waive park fees for affordable housing and strongly leans on land dedication for parks.

Chicago has programs that provides assistance towards home ownership and grants for poor homeowners to fix their roofs. Chicago does have inclusionary housing, however, developers are allowed to pay an in lieu fee instead. If you build in Chicago and ask for no zoning changes, then 10 percent of the units must be put aside as affordable. If, on the other hand, you require a zoning change like a Planned Development (which is very common) then 20 percent of the units must be put aside for low-income buyers.

In my opinion, it is important for cites to take bold steps. For San Jose it was the Arena and for Chicago, it was Millennium Park. Millennium Park covers 24 acres. It was once a surface parking lot and an old railroad yard. Mayor Daley led the charge to create this destination park. He and others tapped the many established families of the greater Chicago area and raised $220 million in donations!

The city put in $270 million of which $175 million came from selling bonds on future parking revenues. If you are not familiar with the park, I encourage you to do a web search and check it out. The park is amazing, immaculate and was the catalyst for building several nearby residential towers, which added substantially to the property tax revenues for Chicago.

The park was not without its own cost overruns. For example, the famous Bean sculpture went from $5 million to $23 million. On the other hand, the City bids out the park maintenance to a property management company which then subcontracts out the work to 17 different contractors to keep the park immaculate.

Our group also visited city hall, where we had an opportunity to walk the Green Rooftop and chat with city staff in the departments of housing, planning, environment, special events and more. Unfortunately, we did not get to meet Mayor Daley—he was traveling to Russia.

Touring Chicago reinforced my support of park fees for affordable housing projects, that its important to take bold steps to accomplish goals that benefit the entire city and that if the union city of Chicago can outsource some of it’s services, then perhaps it works.

What cities have you visited that you feel San Jose could learn from and/or adopt best practices from? 





  2. Pierluigi,

    Who paid for this junket? The chamber, city or you?

    Did you visit the Museum of Science and Industry?  Makes our little tech museum look a bit quaint.

  3. If there’s a big city from which San Jose can learn, it’s not in the midwest. It’s Melbourne, Victoria. They have a waterfront despite being on a bay. They have an active downtown despite endless sprawl. They use their location in running a large port. They have an extensive train and tram network.

    Oh, and as the self-proclaimed “Sporting Capital” they don’t shy away from sports, no matter the profile (read: they aren’t holding out for baseball).

  4. Maybe next year, the councilmembers can schedule a trip to Santa Clara, California.  Santa Clara has city workers who actually maintain the parks!  Their streets are kept up and they send crews out to take care of graffiti, etc. 

    My concern about these trips is that the members of the council will get a bunch of new and crazy ideas that they will try to implement in San Jose, to cover over the previous failed attempts to re-engineer and re-design our city.  We don’t need social engineers…we need to hire work crews that will deliver basic city services.

    Pete Campbell

  5. Thanks for sharing your notes. You are not the normal politician therefore you will never go higher then city council.

  6. So, you have concluded that you couldn’t get the benefits of the trip remotely, but assume that other trips can be replaced by teleconferences.  Every conference is predicated on the fact that in-person networking fosters better learning and results.  They usually include tours of facilities and personal discussions.  So which conferences attended by city employees would lend themselves to remote attendance?

  7. Pierluigi,

    A “few” questions for you:

    EIGHTY people took this jaunt to Chicago? And did “we” the taxpayers pay (directly or indirectly) for this trip for all EIGHTY? What do you expect the tangible benefits to be as a result of these people going? What tangible benefits have “we” seen from previous trips to other cities? Has any thought been given to “virtual tours” for those folks who may not HAVE to make the trip? Has the person authorizing the trip (I assume Mayor Reed?) provided specific goals for the trip and subsequent measureable actions to be taken by City staff upon return to SJ?

    You compared SJ Airport with O’Hare Airport. Tell me please the proximity of O’Hare airport to downtown Chicago. Is the airport located in the middle of surrounding neighborhoods? Or industrial? Or wheat fields?

    Thank you for your time, and thank you too for your recap of the trip.


  8. The next city I suggest you visit is Kansas City Missouri. It’s considered a major city although the population is only about 450,000 and was known more for it’s stockyards than boulevards and fountains. It shared a lot in common with today’s San Jose until the city leaders decided to “sell” it to the rest of the country through a massive public relations effort. In 1976 they hosted the Republican Convention and since then have become a popular tourist destination. I lived there for three years and agree with Pierluigi that you have to visit a city to get the full effect.

  9. Excellent piece Pierluigi!  How about our “O’Hare” between Gilroy and Hollister?  Perhaps we’ll one day have our own version of “Wrigleyville” at the Diridon/Arena site, complete with ballpark, restaurants, bars, housing and a modern train station to boot.  And speaking of baseball Nam Turk, San Jose isn’t holding out for anything (see Sharks, Sabercats, Earthquakes, little giants, lacrosse, half-marathons, tennis…)

  10. On one hand I appreciate Pierluigi letting us know that 80 people took this trip to Chicago, as I would have not known about it otherwise. On the other hand this seems like an absurdly high number of people necessary to make this trip, especially since the week before we were lectured by Pier that city employees should be “web conferencing”. None of the information listed here by Pierluigi could not have been obtained via the internet in a few minutes. By my own rough calculations we payed $10,000 alone to the mayor and police chief for their week’s salary while being in Chicago which seems as if it could have been time better spent in our own city. Again, thanks to Pierluigi for writing of his trip. I just don’t think it was a necessary trip.

  11. Chicago has a small and weak skyline, albeit tall.  I was there 2 months ago.  It’s a like San Jo but much taller, especially the loop.  There’s a major condo glut in Chicago that could be out of hand in the next year or so.  I feel they could add more highrises in the loop area of Chicago, especially near the former Sear’s tower area and the southern part where there are still few parking lots.  The same goes for San Jo.  They’re a work in progress.  That’s because the European and Spanish cities are way ahead in their progress for a vibrant center.

  12. Pierluigi,

    I have been to Millennium Park and there is no way to do it justice on the web. The fountain is amazing. On the other hand you are a brave man to walk through Cabrini Green.

  13. No term limits is ideal if you get the right person in office. I like how city employees must live in Chicago. I don’t think that is so in San Jose?


    San Jose, located at technology ground zero, should be partnering with technology companies to showcase how technology can be used to improve government and the lives of it’s citizenry.

    Here’s how Dell gets the pulse of what it’s customers want.

    You see a lot of good ideas proposed by the folks on this board.  Why doesn’t the city facilitate this via some sort of idea exchange?  Or have an Ideaexchange internally to get ideas for how to improve processes and services?

  15. RIPavilion,
    Nice post, but unfortunately it’s your “it will never happen” in SJ thinking that will keep our city “The Incomplete City.”  What’s wrong with having big dreams for our beloved San Jose?  South Beach/San Francisco was once a shit hole, but then came Pac Bell/SBC/AT&T Park.  You now have “Wrigleyville” in SOMA where blight and nothingness once existed.  Our National Pastime may never happen downtown, but there’s absolutely nothing wrong with having a vision of what San Jose can be.

  16. Chicago turned its old railroad yard into a nice park, while San Jose turned its old railroad yard into a big-box shopping center.

    Chicago has also kept a lot of its elegant 19th century buildings.

    I suggest you take a look at Tacoma, Washington, as a example of how a dilapidated industrial satellite town in a big urban area can be turned into an attractive and interesting place in its own right. Of course, being on Puget Sound gives them a bit of a head start.

  17. #3
    Trip was 3 days paid for by city $1500.
    Did not get to see any museums.

    Nam Turk
    Melbourne is an awesome city. It is a stepchild to Sidney but great architecture both old and new.

    Thanks I think.

    Trips that involving sharing documents, presentations or software are prime candidates for web meetings. Another is if there is a conference and they are web casting the presentations. Also eLearning or web based training.

    80 was everyone public and private together. City paid for the Mayor, 4 Councilmembers, City Manager, Chief of Police, Directors of Housing, Planning, Parks, Public Works, Economic Development and RDA.

    I did not go last year so I am unable to answer all those questions. However in years past they went to Vancouver and that spurred on the move to exempt downtown residential high rises of certain fees to speed up construction.

    O’Hare is surrounded by neighborhoods and is 15 miles from Downtown. I took the $2 train to the airport and saw houses the whole way.


    The weblinks did not work.


    We walked through Cabrini Green during the day.

    There is no requirement that a city of San Jose employee must live in San Jose today. When Mayor Daley came in office he implemented this rule. If you lived outside of Chicago you needed to move or you lost your position.

    There is a lot of potential in your idea and certainly web apps would facilitate.

    Daniel F,
    I think this topic is another blog altogether.

  18. Thanks Pierluigi, for your respons(es). While I did not get all my questions answered, I truly appreciate what appears to be your candor and your honesty as a council person. Technically you didn’t even have to bring the trip up, yet you did. I hope you will continue providing information and insights as you have been doing. 

    Thank you again,


  19. Tony – the reason it will never happen in San Jose is that there’s no collective will to MAKE it happen.  We’ve tried the political “vision” approach.  Mayor Tom got us started, but we failed to finish.  Why?  San Jose’s electorate cares more about what’s happening in its neighborhood, on its block, on its street, in its driveway.  Mayor Gonzo read into that and fed into it with SNI, deflecting attention away from the vision of what could be in the big picture and keeping the focus on the “do for me do for me do for me” set.

    Unless there’s a strong upswell of demand for a strong downtown/Wrigleyville/SOMA, San Jose will never complete the vision.  By and large, San Jose is more concerned with the pothole in the street than the grand vision of what San Jose could be.

  20. Part of the problem with comparing other cities to San Jose is that San Jose is trying to make something of itself, while these other cities are what they are naturally.  They have preserved their heritage and evolved over time.  They have achieved their city’s unique identity organically.  Instead of being ourselves, we want to be what “all the other cities are”.  Nowhere is that better reflected than in Tony D.‘s statement, “Perhaps we’ll one day have our own version of “Wrigleyville” at the Diridon/Arena site, complete with ballpark, restaurants, bars, housing and a modern train station to boot.”  That means we’re not holding out for baseball?  It will never happen.

    We have well and truly missed the boat.  We deny our heritage and history.  We’re ashamed of it.  We’ve long since brushed that aside. We’re so faux sophisticated that we can’t see what we are or are not because our noses are stuck so high in the air we can’t see ground.  That’s how I’ll take exception with Tony D’s statement that we have “Sharks, Sabercats, Earthquakes, little giants, lacrosse, half-marathons, tennis…).  With the exception of the Sharks, no one cares about the rest of that, not to mention San Jose State, Santa Clara, Stanford, and name your local high school.  We’ll turn out if it’s a “championship event”, but beyond that, we can’t be bothered.  We just don’t care.

    And that’s why San Jose will always be “The Incomplete City”.

  21. You don’t need to visit Chicago or where else to figure out what’s right and wrong with SJ. As others have said here, we don’t respect ourselves, in fact we seem embarrassed. We don’t respect our history—the Council/RDA is scheduled to approve destroying another historic building at today’s meeting to make room for a parking lot. Until we learn to respect and honor our past, you can take all the trips you want to other cities and it won’t make SJ a better place.
    Start showing respect—Councilmembers as well as residents—and then, maybe, we can have the city we deserve. Until then we get the city that the Council and RDA want but not most of the rest of us. Too bad.

  22. Outstanding RIPavilion!  Unfortunately, I couldn’t agree with you more.  While San Jose is now a metropolis with over 1 million residents, too many still think of it as a small farming town of 50,000.  Small town thinkers with absolutely no vision (see all those opposed to BART)!!  If you, or anyone who blogs on this site, cares to start a “strong upswell” for a great city, please count me in!  Pierluigi, do potholes exist in Chicago?

  23. 27 – You mistake opposition to the less-than-honest funding scheme for BART with opposition to BART (or some type of modern mass transit) itself.
    You refuse to look at the 3-card-monty being played in front of you and seem to accept everything VTA and tax backers tell you. You seem to ignore that this is just one of many more taxes that will be needed to get BART going. The true costs and real ridership are still not known. Most of us tend not to buy something if we don’t know how much it will really cost us.
    Would you fill up your gas tank with gas that the sign said was $3.57 if you were going to be stopped a little further down the road and told the gas was really $3.69? I doubt it—at least I hope you wouldn’t. When and if the real costs and need for more taxes is truthfully put in front of us, then I will consider voting for BART. Until then, count me out.

  24. I’ve got a dilapidated house that is badly in need of painting. I’m behind on the mortgage payments. The roof leaks. The toilet backs up. There’s weeds everywhere and nobody’s mowed the lawn in months.
    I really should get off my ass and do something about it but instead, I think I’ll take some of my sick leave and go to Long Island to visit the old Vanderbilt mansion to get some home improvement ideas. Maybe I’ll bring some of my friends along so they can give me input. Yeah. Sounds like a good idea.

  25. #17

    One idea I like is for the city to provide zero-interest, or very low interest, loans to police, firefighters, teachers, nurses, etc. if they buy homes in East San Jose, or other similar areas, and stay there for at least ten years.

  26. #25 opined:“Unless there’s a strong upswell of demand for a strong downtown/Wrigleyville/SOMA, San Jose will never complete the vision.”  Uh, whose vision would that be, RIP?  It’s certainly not the vision of most SJ residents.

    And with the mortgage crisis putting a stake in the heart of The 88, Axis, City Heights, and The 360 residences, it’ll be another decade at least before things downtown get back on track.

    The marketers of all the downtown condos have failed to reflect the current very down market by initiating significant price drops.  So, they may all be (empty)rentals by the time Obama is inaugurated.

  27. Hello Perluigi,

    Chicago has a 250 bed hostel.
    An affordable place to stay.  It’s Downtown, near the El.  Dorm beds are $27, less for kids.  Great Place to Stay.

    San Jose, Calif., largest city in Northern Calif. has no urban hostel.  Zero.  Silicon Valley has no urban hostel only two small hostels in the hills (without public transport). 

    You people are missing out!
      Our 45-bed HI-Santa Cruz Hostel is always full in the summer.  We often turn away a dozen people for lack of beds or family rooms.  Most of our guests are young (mostly college-educated) travelers from overseas or Girl Scouts or other school and affinity groups.

    We often have guests from San Jose or Silicon Valley.  We’re two blocks from the Beach, Wharf, Boardwalk and Downtown, in a slew of historic Cottages and City Park.

    But in thirty years hostel involvement I can’t recall any international guests wishing to stop and explore San Jose (except a Chinese group of 23 that AMD paid to see the Tech and provided the bus that also stopped at Fry’s, that was a big hit). 

    Sorry, our foreign guests either travel up or down the Coast, stopping at HI-Pigeon Pt., Montara lighthouses, Monterey, Cambria or SLO, or they take public transport through Silicon Valley, but none stop.  Few realize SJ is Capital of SV, since SV location is not shown on any map.

    Besides there’s no affordable place to stay in San Jose.  The cheap motels are all occupied by service workers and business hotels all cost over $100.

    With over 10 Million Square feet vacant it should be easy to open a nice hostel, close to public transport, restaurants, shopping, entertainment.

    San Jose RDA should help us open such a hostel.  Large SV based multi national like Apple, HP, Intel, Cisco, Sun, AT, IBM, Adobe, Google, Yahoo, eBay could fund such hostel for marketing hi-tech, beta test and future product designs to the many travelers, families, athletes and teams, Scouts, conventioneers, students, seniors, gamers, VA hospital visitors, company trainees and interns that would stay at this hostel.

    Since this hostel is in SV it should have the latest devices such as LCDs at avery bed, VOIP, Internet, RFID, wifi, movies on demand, VR, 3D so that every geek and nerd in the world would want to stay here.
    Guests could check out ipods loaded with bus schedules, tourist info and “Do you know the way to San Jose” music. 
    As a non-pofit HI hostel, local students would volunteer, practice foreign languages, thus keeping costs and prices low.

    It’s a win-win for everyone.

    Many SV residents traveled the globe via the “Hostel Route”.  For many low-cost hostel travel was a life changing experience making them more self-reliant, knowledgable and successful.
    Why not pay back so others, especially young people, can have the same great experiences here in SV and SJ?

    San Jose, Costa Rica, offers 19 hostels (see  Where is the San Jose, CA hostel??

  28. pgp2:  hostels are great if you’re young and don’t mind spartan accomodations.  I used them a lot in Europe when I was 18/19 years old. But I’m not in the mood for that any longer.

    I guess it would fit into the diversity model to attract to SJ a bunch of non-spenders who want cheap overnight stays, and will sit @ a cafe and nurse one latte all night, thus depriving the server of the decent living he/she could get if the table had turned a few times. 

    They DESERVE it, right?  And there are probably a bunch of people like yourself from The People’s Republic of Santa Cruz who would love to have cheap accomodations worldwide.  And you all DESERVE it, too, right?

    You wrote:“Why not pay back so others, especially young people, can have the same great experiences here in SV and SJ?”  EXCELLENT QUESTION, pgp2. SO, if you think travelers to San Jose DESERVE such a choice, why don’t you put up some of YOUR MONEY and build/operate one here in sleepy-but-high-rent San Jose?

    Sleep tight, pgp2.

  29. Hello John Michael,

    Sorry, I don’t believe you ever stayed in hostels, perhaps you wish you had but as a GI were too busy protesting the War at MIT.

      As an Irish hosteller you would not have consumed any lattes but more than a fair number of pints ale.  At least our Irish guests try to keep up with the Aussies.

    As a high priced attorney, I wouldn’t expect you to stay at hostels, but our clients see no reason to spend more than $4/hour for 8 hours sleep.  Instead of splurging over $100/night at most Silicon Valley hotels and motels, they can afford wine, women (or men) and song, yet still have $$ left to go shopping.  At our hostel I see a fair number of GAP shopping bags when scrounging through the trash seeking cans and bottles to recycle. 
      Ireland has 26 HI associated hostels (only 22 in Calif.) amd more than 200 independent hostels usually in the 19 Euro price range.
      Just as you moan about high priced law material on CD and suggest boycott, young potential visitors to San Jose and SV are doing just that by not staying overnight.  Actually they aren’t even coming during the day!  Most overseas visitor don’t know where Silicon Valley is since it’s not shown on any road map.
      Sorry, I’d love to open a San Jose Hostel if I had the cash. I sure put in enough volunteer time, have never been paid, been involved since 1979.  Getting a new hostel opened up is not easy, with neighbor opposition, weird San Jose zoning restrictions, high prices for vacant buildings, etc.  Hostelling is my hobby, my church, my destiny.

      With our large foreign clientele (nearly all attended college and most graduated)it would greatly benefit some SV company such as Apple, HP, Intel, Google, ebay, Sun, AMD, Yahoo, even MS, to help us establish a large SV hostel for marketing their products/services to our future upscale guests.
      I envision a super hi-tech hostel with all the latest gizmos (LCD screens at each bunk, VR, free VOIP, 3D, T1 speed, RFID access, movies on demand, that Geeks and Nerds from all over the globe would try to break down the front door to stay and play.

    A Google Earth Dome and check-out ipods with programmed tourist info and bus schedules would add a nice touch.

      Nearby schools and colleges could send students to practice foreign languages with our guests and show them the valley. 
      The hostel would offer factory tours to our visitors and shuttle service to other nearby hostels.

      If you had stayed at hostels you would have known that hostels are much more than an affordable place to stay, it’s a social institution, a great place to meet fellow travelers from all over the world, and a wonderful place to make new friends and to learn.
      With your connections as a former City Councilman you could be the right person to bring a great hostel to San Jose.
      Tonight our small 45 bed Santa Cruz Hostel is occupied by an English school group.  They come every year for a couple of nights; most of the teachers are the same, the students are new.
    We’ll all have a great time.