What Gets Left Behind in the Rush to Privatize Public Improvements?

As public-private partnerships to invest in aged urban infrastructure gain in popularity in Chicago, and across the country, Christopher Weber asks who will fund the improvements unaligned with corporate interests.
May 9, 2012, 6am PDT | Jonathan Nettler | @nettsj
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With its recently announced $7 billion plan for private investment to help fund a raft of infrastructure improvement projects, Chicago (led by Mayor Rahm Emanuel) has leapt to the front of the rush to "get corporate America to pay for something once funded by tax dollars alone." An attractive solution to funding necessary improvements at a time when city budgets are stretched to the breaking point and the federal government is unable to agree on spending priorities, such partnerships have an inherent downside, argues Weber:

"The problem is that the public-private 'partnerships,' as Emanuel outlines them, are tilted toward the private side. They let corporate interests drive public investment. Projects that fail to align with the interests of private funders go begging."

As an example, Weber points to 63rd Street, "once a mecca of culture and business on Chicago's South Side" that is now a no-man's land.

"63rd Street shows how big that hole is. What company is going to invest in building affordable housing and livable communities here? These honorable causes stand to be big losers in the era of the public-private partnership. Not only has Emanuel refused to invest here-he's actively cutting back on the city's role in the neighborhood...Realistically, City Halls in Chicago and nationwide must invest in depopulated districts like 63rd Street because no one else will."

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