Age of Trump brings threats and opportunity for cities like Chicago

From left to right: Bruce Katz, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, and British MP Tristram Hunt speak at Brookings Cities in the age of Trump and Brexit event

One thing should be clear for Chicago and other American cities after the election of Donald Trump: Local leadership is more important now than ever. 

After several years of federal gridlock, the 115th U.S. Congress is promising to deliver significant legislation and reform across government. The continued health and success of cities and metropolitan areas will require mayors and county leaders to strike the right balance between confrontation and collaboration with the new administration and who can ultimately point a path beyond the partisan conflict currently afflicting our politics.

There are certainly areas where compromise can’t be tolerated. Last week, the Brookings Institution hosted Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel for a public discussion on the implications of the 2016 election for U.S. cities. It came just a few days after he delivered a letter co-signed by 17 other U.S. mayors to President-Elect Trump that forcefully rejected any efforts to deport so-called Dreamers—undocumented immigrants who were brought into the country as children.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel explains why he delivered a letter from big city U.S. mayors to President Elect Trump in support of Dreamers—undocumented immigrants who were brought into the country as children.

Beyond a sane and compassionate immigration policy, cities cannot afford to rollback progress made in tackling issues such as health care, civil rights or climate change adaptation. Changes in the Affordable Care Act could have major fiscal implications for cities and their surrounding counties, which do not have the fiscal capacity to absorb responsibilities for health care for disadvantaged populations. These are areas where the imperative is both moral and economic and where cities and metropolitan areas need to speak with one unified voice about the dramatic effects of federal reforms.

Still, there will be opportunities for city leaders and the federal government to come together around shared policy priorities, most notably infrastructure. The investment deficit in our national infrastructure is well documented, and cities and metropolitan areas house some of our most crucial assets—freight rail hubs, public transit, airports, and ports. Recent federal efforts to increase investment have borne fruit, most notably TIFIA, a loan program that grants states and local governments funding for major projects that have guaranteed revenue streams to repay such loans. Chicago has used this program to great effect, receiving hundreds of millions of dollars over the past several years alone to improve the Blue Line, develop the Chicago Riverwalk and modernize and expand O’Hare International Airport. By expanding TIFIA, the Trump administration could deliver on a major campaign promise and unleash a wave of infrastructure construction locally, while costing the federal government relatively little in the long-term.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel explains how he’s used federal TIFIA loans to spur urban development.

There are also opportunities for cities to work closely with their surrounding suburbs, exurbs, and rural areas on issues of mutual concern: The fissures revealed in November’s election don’t reflect the economic realities of where much of the country lives and works—metropolitan areas where urban cores, outer suburbs, and rural hinterlands are truly interdependent on each other.

In the nation’s capital, these gaps can seem large. But in metropolitan areas, seemingly disparate communities are linked by virtue of sharing the same housing and labor markets; roads, rail and transit systems; and even support for regional sports teams. Chicagoland should recognize the capacity for collaboration and action it holds within its borders and move full-steam ahead, regardless of what occurs in Washington.

Watch the full event here: Cities in the Age of Trump and Brexit: A conversation with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and British MP Tristram Hunt

Editor’s Note: This piece originally appeared in Crain’s Chicago Business under the title, “Believe it or not, Age of Trump is an Opportunity for Cities like Chicago”