Founder of 1871 envisions the future of Chicago

Barrett and Pritzker
MarySue Barrett interviewed J.B. Pritzker at MPC’s annual luncheon. (Tricia Scully/Metropolitan Planning Council)

By Yimian Wu

The founder of the high-tech incubator 1871, philanthropist J.B. Pritzker, called for risk-taking and revolution to create Chicago’s “next big thing” at the annual luncheon of the Metropolitan Planning Council on Wednesday.

“It is the idea that we are willing to take risks that is going to get us the next wave or the next answer. You have to think in really big terms,” said Pritzker.

“The motto and mission of SpaceX is not a ‘great rocket up to the sky’. The motto and mission is ‘we are colonizing Mars,’” he commented in recalling his recent trip to the SpaceX factory, making the audience laugh.

“Now only half of you laugh and that’s important. Because guess what? It is actually possible. It sounded crazy when he [Elon Musk] came up with the idea 10 years ago, but today only half of you laughed,” he jabbed back.

He also said that the founder of Uber, Travis Kalanick, believed that for every Uber car on the road, seven passenger cars will be taken off the road, and when Uber is fully developed, it will replace about five acres of parking structures in Chicago.

“It is a crazy notion that you can reclaim a traffic-less city, but it could happen and reduce the amount of money we spend in our roads and everything else with to do with our infrastructure for driving,” Pritzker added.

“Let’s not make the next big thing something incremental. Let’s actually think about transforming the city,” he said.

He said that, with its ambitious goal, SpaceX developed the technology to launch rockets at one-tenth the cost of its competitors in the process. Similarly, he hoped the bigger goal of “transforming the city” would stimulate other inventions.

MarySue Barrett, president of the Planning Council, said Pritzker’s comments are “reinforcement for MPC” because “thinking big and thinking comprehensively put the people and the pieces together.” She referred to MPC’s Great Rivers Chicago project, which redesigns the river system, from improving water quality to expanding the river walk to bringing together the right mix of businesses and residences along the river.

Pritzker also said that one admirable characteristic of Millennials, people born between 1982 to 2000, is their desire to revolutionize everything they engage in to make it all better.

“It isn’t incremental change that many Millennials are thinking about, but how do we flip the dialogue and how do we change the game so that we can truly take something this level and double it?” he said.

Photo at top: MarySue Barrett interviews J.B. Pritzker at MPC’s annual luncheon. (Tricia Scully/Metropolitan Planning Council)