State of the City 2022
Mayor Rotering delivered the State of the City 2022 remarks at the February 14, 2022 City Council meeting. Watch the video here.
Thank you for the opportunity to present the 2022 State of the City of Highland Park. In reflecting the past year, “gratitude” is the first word that comes to mind. First and foremost, I am grateful to live and serve in a community as engaged and dynamic as ours. Over the last two years, Highland Parkers have truly risen to meet the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and its health and economic consequences.
I’d like to recognize my City Council colleagues – Tony Blumberg, Michelle Holleman, Annette Lidawer, Kim Stone, Adam Stolberg, and Andrés Tapia. I am grateful every day for the partnership, integrity, and commitment that each member of our team contributes.
I am also grateful for the leadership and dedication of our staff, especially City Manager Ghida Neukirch and the senior staff whose hard work and professionalism have kept our city operating and flourishing during such an uncertain time. Thank you as well to our first responders and essential workers, for continuing to put themselves at risk to keep us safe.
In challenging times, the role of government at all levels is to provide consistent guidance and transparent leadership in the service of our communities. Nowhere is that more important than at the local level, where decisions frequently have an immediate impact on the daily life of our neighbors. With the strategic planning and careful administration of our City’s financial resources, we are beginning this new year with our eleventh balanced operating budget in a row. Our most important policy document, the City’s budget serves many purposes: it identifies the scope of work for a given year, summarizes our strong approach to fiscal management, and establishes long-term priorities for a sustainable and resilient future.
We entered 2021 with a great sense of optimism: the first vaccinations for healthcare workers and first responders had just been delivered, and plans were underway to roll out COVID-19 vaccinations to the general public. At the City, we were grateful to partner with Jewel-Osco Pharmacy to host a vaccination clinic that served some of our most vulnerable neighbors.
Because we prioritized vaccination in the spring, we were able to savor summer with the return of beloved events, including Food Truck Thursdays, the Bitter Jester Music Festival, Ravinia Festival and a fabulous fireworks display over Labor Day weekend. We also marked the 20th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terror attacks with a ceremony of remembrance and gratitude for the first responders in our community who answered the call to serve in the immediate emergency response.
We invested heavily in efforts to support our community of small businesses, understanding that they bore the brunt of the economic impact of the pandemic, continuing our efforts through waived fees, the administration of a grant program, and expedited permit reviews. We also launched a wide-ranging marketing campaign to showcase all that our City has to offer to our residents and to our region. Through listening sessions for the new business development strategic plan, you shared your priorities and vision for the future of our community, and we look forward to bringing those to fruition. On behalf of all of our businesses, thank you for your continued support throughout the pandemic. Every time you order in from a restaurant or buy from a local shop, you are helping to sustain our local economy and investing back in our community.
2022 has begun with a number of exciting projects already in progress or on the horizon, including the demolition of the existing Ravinia Fire Station and construction of a new, state-of-the-art facility. New housing developments will attract new neighbors to homes in the heart of the Central Business District and elsewhere in the city, including the project currently underway at the former Saks Fifth Avenue building. These new developments highlight the appeal of Highland Park’s pedestrian-friendly, vibrant downtown, and take advantage of zoning changes that have made our community even more attractive to developers. Later this spring, the new Clavey Rd. bridge will reopen ahead of the second phase of construction, which will bring a new mixed-use path to enhance pedestrian and bicyclist access and enjoyment of our city.
This year, we will continue the important and ongoing work of creating a more just and equitable society, building on partnerships and existing programs that prioritize community engagement, evaluating existing policies and procedures through an equity audit, and listening carefully to feedback from our neighbors of color, LGBTQ residents, and immigrant community.
More than anything, we are all looking forward to gathering together as a city, and to that end, I am excited to share that in response to your feedback, we are embarking on an exciting new project to create an event space in the heart of downtown Highland Park that will open this summer with a fun, family-friendly slate of special events all summer long into the fall.
While there isn’t a blueprint to transition into a “new normal,” we are fortunate to have strong, constant guideposts in our city’s four core priorities: public safety, fiscal stability, infrastructure investment, and community vibrancy. Over the last two years, these principles have helped us to make difficult decisions, to prioritize work, and to be nimble and flexible. We are always learning, always evaluating, and always ready to implement new strategies to work most effectively for you. Your feedback is critical to our success, and I hope that you will consider joining the City and elected and administrative professionals of the other governments serving Highland Park residents at our annual Neighborhood Meetings this spring. Information about these virtual meetings is available on our website at cityhpil.com. Your thoughts, ideas, comments and critiques are welcome and vital to the long-term success of our community.
We are also successful because of the partnership with our sister governments, faith communities, and the nonprofit organizations and other community partners serving our residents. Thank you to all of our partners for the tremendous support and collaboration over the past year. Together we have pursued efficiencies and implemented new initiatives to benefit our community and to provide an informed, unified response to the challenges of the pandemic. Our work together has been truly vital in the short-term, and will yield a multitude of benefits in the long-term.
The great, African-American poet and Chicagoan Gwendolyn Brooks famously, movingly wrote: “we are each other’s harvest; we are each other’s business; we are each other’s magnitude and bond.” That is the challenge we all must meet as we turn our attention to defining our “new normal.” We are all tired of pandemic protocols and mitigations, ready to leave it all behind and get back to the people and activities we love. And yet, as some of our community members remain severely vulnerable to this virus, which continues to spread widely in our area, leaving behind the sacrifices of the last two years is a luxury we just don’t have – yet.
A consequence of this difficult time is that we as a nation are experiencing increasing tensions between those who share a difference of approach to such a complex topic. We are not immune to those tensions in Highland Park. I think we can all think of a time where we reacted with anger or frustration instead of compassion when engaging with a neighbor whose approach to the pandemic or any other important issue differed from our own.
However, Highland Park is a community of leaders. In our community, we come together around our shared values, even when we disagree. We honor that difference of opinion and unite behind a common goal: the health, safety, and peace of those we love. We do what is right instead of what is easiest. And when that which is right is in tension with what we desire, we also choose what is right. Sometimes, as now, we are faced with a moment where we must sacrifice in service to others. We are each other’s harvest. We sow seeds of justice and compassion, weather the storms that come our way, and reap the rewards as a community.
That commitment to each other, neighbor to neighbor, is what makes our community a truly special place to live, work, and visit. What an absolute privilege it is for all of us to represent you. Thank you.