By Adela Suliman
LONDON, Feb 19 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Crime rates have fallen by 30 percent in the last two years in Chicago, due in part to investment in education and neighbourhoods, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said on Tuesday.
Chicago has more universities than any other city in the United States apart from Boston, said Emanuel, and offers free daily tuition in public libraries along with summer reading schemes.
A child's school day has been extended by an hour and 15 minutes as part of the mayor's efforts to boost education.
Such steps will help drive Chicago's economic growth and attract companies seeking talent, as well as stem violence in America's third largest city, Emanuel said.
"Schools give you the passport to navigate the world in the future," Emanuel said in a speech in London, adding his emphasis on education as a tool to reduce social inequality had been a "political battle."
Emanuel, who will step down as mayor this year, faced widespread criticism over his handling of gun violence and the fatal shooting of a black teenager Laquan McDonald in 2014 by a police officer.
The killing led to protests against racial inequality and policing, and a federal investigation of the department found widespread excessive force and racial bias in the city.
Chicago hired more than 1,100 extra police officers in 2017, and the department issued a new policy on the use of force.
Police have also used predictive software to help reduce crime along with the deployment of more than 7,000 body cameras - the largest of its kind in the United States.
Although murder rates are falling, Chicago registered nearly 1,900 homicides between 2015 and 2017, according to the Pew Research Center, while New York and Los Angles each had fewer than 300 homicides in 2017.
Community groups have also criticised the slow pace of reforms and gun violence, which is among the worst in the country.
Last week Chicago rolled out its first urban resilience strategy, a roadmap for addressing the city's biggest challenges, with the aim of reducing disparities between neighbourhoods and promoting more cohesive communities.
As part of the plan, Chicago will transition to 100 percent renewable energy in community buildings by 2035 and install an electric bus fleet by 2040.
"We have to make sure every part of the city feels included in the future," Emanuel, an ex-White House chief of staff to former President Barack Obama, said.
Cities had a key role to play, he said, and had become new centres of power, working as partners with national governments.
"Cities are emerging as city-states," the mayor said. "Things that used to be left to nation states, cities and mayors are picking up and making policy decisions of their own."
Urban centres will continue to grow over the next decade with two-thirds of people in the world expected to be living in cities by 2050, compared to 55 percent now, according to United Nations estimates.
"If you want to see a neighbourhood succeed? Public safety, public parks, public schools, public transportation, public libraries - and then residents and retail will have the confidence to come there," said Emanuel.
(Reporting by Adela Suliman; editing by Astrid Zweynert @azweynert. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking and property rights. Visit http://news.trust.org for more stories.)
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