Remembering Richard J. Daley

Introduction to City that Works

Chicago owes much of its reputation as “the city that works” to Mayor Richard J. Daley’s administration.

I think [Richard J. Daley] made Chicago the most livable city in America. He paid attention. He stuck to his knitting. I use that word in our own business, too. He knew what they needed between neighborhoods, good streets, good highways, and water systems. And he did those things. He did the public works projects well.

James McDonough, Commissioner of Department of Streets and Sanitation, interview excerpt, September 17, 2003

On Daley's watch, the city prioritized neighborhood services. It added new garbage trucks, sewers, and street and alley lighting. It reorganized and enlarged police and fire protection. It furnished cleaner water with the Central District and the South Water Filtration Plants. The mayor oversaw city beautification projects. Examples included neighborhood cleanup campaigns and construction of one of Chicago’s first bicycle paths.

A number of city residents felt left out, believing that well-connected businesses and workers from favored neighborhoods benefited over others. Some critics charged that neighborhoods on the south and west sides, particularly those whose residents were predominantly black or Latino, got especially short shrift. But Daley’s defenders pointed to what they saw as the vitality of Chicago’s business and cultural life during his administration, especially at a time when other major cities suffered losses of business and population declines. Daley also revitalized the downtown Loop area. He urged national and international corporations to establish headquarters there and facilitated construction of many of the buildings that have come to define the city’s skyline. Among those were the Standard Oil Building, the Hancock Building, and the Sears Tower.  

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