Chicago, Connected Cities, Funding

This post is part of a series about the inaugural U.S.-Australian City Exchange on Local Finance Mechanisms presented by the Future Cities Collaborative, an initiative of the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, with the support of New South Wales Trade and Investment and AECOM. The exchange allows city leaders to examine innovative sustainable development and finance mechanisms.

The City of Chicago is a good representation of what the Future Cities Collaborative calls an “outstanding example of a sustainability and livability transformation.” Being a native of Chicago, I was particularly excited to help provide the exchange participants with a local perspective on contextual knowledge needed for a successful exploration of the Windy City.

Prior to my 10 years at AECOM, I served the City of Chicago in several capacities, starting as a project manager in the Department of Transportation. After several infrastructure projects, I was tapped to be First Deputy at the Department of Buildings. My last position with the city was commissioner of planning and development under the Daley administration, where I dealt directly with special services areas (SSA), tax increment financing (TIF) and other entitlement programs.

Today, Chicago is recognized as a leading global city by the Globalization and World Cities Research Network and the Global Cities Index. Chicago is an international hub for finance, commerce and industry, and is a world leader in innovation and technology. While our city’s preeminent position today is anchored by critical transportation infrastructure assets, we cannot forget that our city’s current modern capacity is entirely linked to a number of major infrastructure decisions over the past 120 years.

The exchange in Chicago started off with team introductions on Daley Plaza, followed quickly by our first interview at City Hall. Over the next four hours, our conversations with city staff examined city-led redevelopments and the financing and funding approaches used, including TIF and SSA. The discussion explored how the city funded maintenance and beautification work, auto and bike transit projects and economic developments through local tax initiatives, supported in part by enabling legislation.

AECOM then led the group on a tour from City Hall through downtown Chicago, walking through numerous infill projects such as Block 37 and Millennium Park — an award-winning sustainable park that offers free cultural programs to those in the Chicago area.  Millennium Park is an example of how joint partnerships, additional commercial development and a new tax base can be leveraged to finance infrastructure. On the tour we held important discussions around tangible examples to aid the knowledge transfer to the Australian context.

We ended the day with two presentations, one on innovation and smart cities initiatives from the City of Chicago’s Department of Innovation and Technology (DoIT), and the other from David Stone, who works in the AECOM Chicago office and serves on the board of the Old Town SSA on the north side of Chicago.

The DoIT presentation summarized analytics tools used to evaluate an ever-growing amount of data the City of Chicago collects on a day-to-day basis. The presentation reinforced the many ways in which the city is using analytics to enhance service delivery and reduce costs. The SSA presentation focused on the framing and day-to-day realities of how an SSA functions by discussing issues such as the role of contracted services, governance and budgeting.

David’s presentation also placed the Wells Street SSA in context, framing the nature of commercial activity along with what is a vibrant commercial corridor today. The presentation focused on the importance of enabling legislation and creating programs that can allow for the creation of special benefit districts, such as SSA.


Denise_CasalinoDenise Casalino ( is senior vice president, Chicago Metro area manager, in AECOM’s Chicago office.


Originally published Jun 30, 2015

Author: Denise Casalino