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Illinois Issues Summer Book Selection

Chicago's land-use crisis


Gerald D. Suttles. The Man-Made City: The Land-Use Confidence Game in Chicago. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1990. Pp. 312 with illustrations, appendix, bibliography and index. $24.95 (cloth).

Is Gerald D. Suttles' The Man-Made City a bad book? No, it's just a carelessly written and sloppily edited one. It contains a hodgepodge of insights some good, some bad that together convey no central idea or purpose. In short, what can you say about a book that purports to be an insider's view of how things are done in Chicago and yet is filled with countless mistaken facts, misinterpretations and misspellings, including the names of Richard J. Daly [sic] (p. 188) and even Santa Clause [sic] (p. 138)? Given its factual weakness, e.g. not knowing that the state's attorney is a county rather than a state post, as well as its haphazard treatment of themes and subjects, it is difficult to take too seriously the objects of Suttles' attacks. Like Iraqi scuds in the Persian Gulf war, most of Suttles' missiles are erratic and fall short of harming his various intended targets.

Another problem with this book is that most of its serious research was done prior to Harold Washington's election as Chicago's mayor in 1983, and yet the book was not published until 1990, three years after his death in 1987. Thus, targeting Richard J. Daley and his immediate successors, Michael Bilandic and Jane Byrne, as villains who prevent thoughtful public deliberation on key economic development and land-use issues seems out of date. Moreover, Washington's mayoral election and reelection negate much of Suttles' argument that a pervasive ruling elite (social, economic and political) guides major citywide decisions. The time gap between the book's research and publication is so pronounced that one can imagine the author substituting Richard M. Daley for Richard J. Daley.

In terms of content, Suttles looks at land-use planning in specific neighborhoods. He concentrates most of his fire power on the city's near north and central downtown areas. He claims that Chicago boosterism and its "city-mat-works" mentality are out of date because many development projects go uncompleted. Suttles also accuses the city of being unwilling to deal with its problems of urban renewal, race relations and political corruption, as he lists the usual suspects so easily targeted by liberal academicians. (Suttles is a professor in the department of sociology at the University of Chicago.) Unfortunately, this book contains little in the way of comparative data. As a result, the reader is left uncertain as to which big city comparable to Chicago is doing any better at dealing with the ongoing national urban crisis.

On a more positive note, Suttles' call for neighborhood development from below and for centralized planning that takes in the whole city is laudable. He correctly points out the potential ills of gentrification and the possibility of further erosion in the city's affordable housing. He rightly suggests that too often the existing process depends less on rational planning than on political "showmanship." Given Chicago's changing demographics and growing dependence on the central business district for tax revenue, clearly there must be a more comprehensive approach to dealing with new housing patterns and economic development in the city.

In sum, Suttles raises many issues of concern and offers some thought-provoking analysis, but in all honesty, he is factually overmatched. Either he or his university press should have taken the time to re-edit this book. Since no one did, it is tough to take seriously many of his out-or-date assertions.

Paul M. Green is director of the Institute for Public Policy and Administration, Governors State University.

July 1991/Illinois Issues/29

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