My atlas entry takes as its inspiration the Chicago Teachers Union’s march to the proposed site of the Lincoln Yards mega-development during their latest strike action. The CTU demanded that Mayor Lori Lightfoot close the gap in their contract negotiations by transferring funds away from the tax-increment financing (TIF) district that is set to subsidize Lincoln Yards to a tune of $1.3 billion. This project takes (dis)inspiration, by extension, from Mayor Lightfoot’s argument that there is no Lincoln Yards money “available that we can just shift somewhere else.” My atlas entry refuses this logic. Speculative and utopian, “Redistributing TIFs” visualizes the possibilities for shifting TIF funds away from mega-development projects and toward community needs. I draw from the demands of grassroots social justice organizations in Chicago that have performed extensive research on the city’s budget, paying special attention to demands put forward by racial justice organizations. “Redistributing TIFs” also benefits from and utilizes the research of the TIF Illumination Project and other organizations working to expose how TIF operates. The comparative maps that I produce through ArcGIS show how abolishing Chicago’s eight most lucrative TIF districts and investing those resources in community needs would spread the city’s wealth into neighborhoods that have experienced decades of disinvestment. Although the CTU and other social justice organizations have made the same argument around redistributing TIF funds, my atlas entry spatializes this demand so as to make visible how abolishing the most lucrative TIF districts would reshape the possibilities for collective life in Chicago.
I hope that community organizers and social justice movements in Chicago can use this atlas entry as a practicable and polemical tool for making arguments around the redistribution of resources. I have intentionally designed “Redistributing TIFs” in a story form with this goal in mind. My research shows that tax-increment financing has reshaped American cities at a scale comparable to mid-century urban renewal programs. Chicago’s elected officials constantly tell us that the city has no money. In light of this deception, it is all the more important for us to think in a utopian mode about what kind of city is possible and to denaturalize how decisions about the distribution of resources are made in the present.
While I finally settled on creating a series of comparative maps, this project could have taken other forms. I toyed with the idea of giving viewers of my Story Map the ability to add or remove layers from the legend, letting everyone speculate on how they would redistribute TIF funds for themselves. This idea proved untenable with the data and coding abilities at my disposal. At one point, I also considered interviewing people along TIF district borders and asking them how they would like to see the city redistribute TIF funds. Although I still think that this method could produce captivating insights – as a semi-performative piece that taps into the collective imagination of Chicago – I ultimately decided on another form after assessing my own ability to conduct these interviews in a manner that wouldn’t reproduce the legacy of white male researchers showing up on city corners and asking strangers questions.
In some respects, “Redistributing TIFs” reifies and reproduces an image of the city as a totality. Forasmuch as the maps make a mockery of the mayor’s arguments around shifting funds inside the city budget, “Redistributing TIFs” seems to leave very little space for questions of embodiment, memory, and trauma in the city, for instance. Nevertheless, the project does find inspiration in Gwendolyn Brooks’s reflections on the meeting of the planned and the unplanned in the city. The designation of TIF districts represents an extreme form of planning, perhaps far beyond the architectural designs of a kitchenette building. The speculative maps that I create, meanwhile, push up against the logic of the planner and stage the convergence of the planned and unplanned in refusing to heed the rules around what funds can be allocated toward what ends. Moreover, the maps I create ultimately represent worlds that do not (yet) exist. In this manner, I follow the lead of David Buuck and Italo Calvino in deploying the map as a form or an instrument for imagining alternative futures, leaning into the political possibilities of the absurd.
Alani, Hannah. “Frustrated Teachers Take On Lincoln Yards as Strike Reaches Day 9: ‘TIF Money … Should Be Going to Our Schools.’” Block Club Chicago, 29 Oct. 2019. https://blockclubchicago.org/2019/10/29/frustrated-teachers-take-on-lincoln-yards-as-strike-reaches-day-9-tif-money-should-be-going-to-our-schools/.
Alani, Hannah. “‘This is the Last Time. You’re Done’: After Defeat, Lincoln Yards Critics Hopeful New Council Will Stop Luxury TIF Handouts.” Block Club Chicago, 11 Apr. 2019. https://blockclubchicago.org/2019/04/11/even-after-lincoln-yards-approval-critics-hopeful-new-city-council-will-stop-luxury-tif-handouts-this-is-the-last-time-youre-done/.
Brooks, Gwendolyn. The Essential Gwendolyn Brooks. Edited by Elizabeth Alexander. New York: Library of America, 2003.
Buuck, David. Site Cite City. New York City: Futurepoem, 2015.
Calvino, Italo. Invisible Cities. New York: Mariner Books, 1978.
 Hannah Alani, “Frustrated Teachers Take On Lincoln Yards as Strike Reaches Day 9: ‘TIF Money … Should Be Going to Our Schools,’” Block Club Chicago, 29 Oct. 2019, https://blockclubchicago.org/2019/10/29/frustrated-teachers-take-on-lincoln-yards-as-strike-reaches-day-9-tif-money-should-be-going-to-our-schools/.