On the downside, gentrification and the destruction now under way of nearly half the city’s public-housing units have tightened the city’s affordable-housing crunch. As a result, many poor blacks are being pushed out of the city into desperately poor suburbs to the south.
Daley’s key political strategy has been to improve Chicago’s schools, once called the nation’s worst. The schools were a major cause of middle-class flight, and gave rise to a chorus of complaints over the quality of the area’s work force. Ten years ago, radical decentralization of school control unleashed a wave of creativity that led to some significant educational improvements. In 1995, the state Legislature gave Daley new powers over the schools, and his hand-picked leaders have instituted tougher testing standards for students and schools. The superintendent has directly intervened in failing schools. Students who fail standard tests even after summer school are held back to repeat a grade. Test scores have continued to improve, and the image of the Chicago schools has soared, with President Clinton touting the city’s policy of no "social promotions."
But there is strong evidence that the policy of holding students back, rather than offering remedial teaching alongside promotion, simply increases the number of dropouts. School reformers, parent groups and many teachers are rebelling against re-centralization of control over education, which they contend will undermine the more fundamental improvements in education wrought through the original school reform.
More broadly, progressives criticize Daley for his insistence on centralized, corporate-style command of the city and his rejection of the kind of participatory democracy that Harold Washington had encouraged. Whether the focus is the schools, the police, economic development or nearly any other city policy, Daley’s initiatives have been weakened by his refusal to involve the city’s citizens and their organizations.
The challenge for progressives is to devise a new urban strategy that builds on citizen participation as a key to rebuilding the cities — fashioning a "machine of democracy" as an alternative both to Daley’s corporate management and to the long-faded Democratic machine of Chicago lore.