Sunday, October 10th, 2010

Chicago’s Eroding Competitive Performance (Chicago vs. New York)

This is another in my Future of Chicago series, examining major issues that go beyond the headlines of the moment in the lead up to the mayoral election.

My Chicago Worldview

A lot of my thinking on Chicago has been shaped by an overarching view of its performance. Believe it or not, I used to be a huge Chicago cheerleader. I don’t think there’s any doubt that during the 1990’s, Chicago rediscovered its mojo and was really tearing up the charts of performance for big cities. But something changed in the mid-2000’s. I date it to the opening of Millennium Park. Millennium Park was a huge home run for the city, and obviously a key positive part of Mayor Daley’s legacy, no matter what the cost over runs. It added hugely to reconnecting the Loop to the lakefront park system, created a huge tourist attraction, and probably more than any other single factor sparked a residential boom in the Loop itself.

But Millennium Park was also a sort of high water mark for the city. While I can name a lot of great things the city did before then, after that, there have arguably been more negatives than positives, ranging from a failed Olympic bid that monopolized civic attention for far too long, to a white elephant of a partially completed $300M train station under Block 37 (which hopefully will some day look like a wise move in retrospect), to a disastrous parking meter lease. What’s more, Chicago started hemorrhaging jobs and its economic performance cratered. I think anyone who looked at the situation honestly would have to admit a good chunk of the wind has gone out of the city’s sails. That’s not to say Chicago is doomed. It has fantastic strengths and resources. But it is trending the wrong direction.

I think this is massively underdiscussed locally, both because the city is imbued with an admittedly not uncommon booster club society culture, and because America’s struggles generally of late make it seem like Chicago is just part of a macrotrend. It is, but it’s more than that.

I’m going to illustrate Chicago’s reversal today by comparing it to New York City, looking at various key civic performance data. I’ll try to compare both metro and city where possible (all data is metro unless explicitly labeled as city), and to back to 1990 where possible, though for many items I could only conveniently get data for the past decade. You’ll see that where once Chicago was crushing New York, now the situation has reversed itself, erasing 20 years of relative gains for Chicago.

New York’s Quality of Life Program

While reading this I want you to keep in mind my recent post on New York’s quality of life agenda. I said I would demonstrate how that is paying dividends, and this post shows that too. Though perhaps I can’t claim causation, think about the correlation at least. In the 90’s and early 2000’s it was Chicago who was the leader in transportation and urban space, with its streetscape program and median planters, the wrought iron fence program, one of the first large scale bike lane deployments, the McDonald’s cycle center at Millennium Park, and more. Now Chicago has stagnated while New York powers ahead on all those items I’ve written about before. It’s hard for people to make the mental leap from stagnant transport planning and banal public place design to economic performance. So hopefully this helps make the picture clear.

Population Growth

Here’s a chart from the last decade. For these charts, I am sometimes inconsistent on my use of percentages as multiplied by 100 or not. I did not have time to make them consistent, but keep in mind that any 0.XX value should be multiplied by 100 unless otherwise noted.

Population Growth – July 1, 2000-July 1, 2009
Source: Census Bureau Population Estimates Program

This one is a mixed result. Both regions have anemic growth, but Chicago wins on the metro measure while losing on the city measure. Despite the city of Chicago’s massive condo building boom, its population has been stagnant.


Here is where it starts getting ugly.

Source: BLS Current Employment Statistics

You see Chicago jumping out to a big lead in job in the 90’s, only to see that relative performance gain almost completely erased by today. A year by year view shows this in action.

I think this is the scariest one of the bunch. I think back to 1992 when I first started work out of college. My employer was still hiring aggressively in Chicago even though it was during a recession, while one of the first rumors I heard when I started was about an east cost layoff. This chart backs that anecdote up. Now the shoe is on the other foot.

If you pull the monthlies for 2010 to date, the situation is continuing on this trend.

Unemployment Rate

Unsurprisingly, we see the same trend at work in the unemployment rate, where New York was far higher than Chicago in the early to mid-90’s, but is now consistently below it.

Source: BLS Local Area Unemployment Statistics

Gross Domestic Product

GDP is a basic measure of economic output. The data is only available at the MSA level for a short term period at present, and there’s some debate over how accurate narrow geographic parsing of this variable is, but the same trend is in evidence.

Source: BEA Regional Economic Accounts

Please keep in mind that for this and most of the other charts, I rendered them as percentage type comparisons to make the data comparable between cities. If you looked at the actual underlying values, New York’s GDP per capita is already far higher than Chicago’s – $57,097 vs. $45,463. The chart above only measures the growth in the spread between them.

Personal and Household Income

Again, not surprisingly, the trend flows through to per capita income:

Source: BEA Regional Economic Accounts

And the year by year view of the same data:

One might argue that this is influenced by the finance bubble that particularly blessed New York. And possibly so. So let’s take a look at an alternate data point, median household income from the Census Bureau. As a median value, this should be less likely to reflect huge gains at the high end. Unfortunately, the Census 2000 data for MSAs is based on the old definition, and it wasn’t a straightforward matter to recalculate this to current definitions, so here is city only performance for the last decade:

Source: Census 2000 and ACS 2009

Doesn’t matter – same result.

Educational Attainment

I’ll round out with a couple of additional factors often viewed as important. First, the increase in percentage of adults with a college degree. Note that this is a percentage point change (difference), not a percentage change in the total value.

Source: Census 2000 and ACS 2009

Back to a mixed result, with New York winning on the regional basis, but Chicago doing better in the city.


And lastly, a couple of commuting stats. First, public transportation mode share for commuting. Note that this again is a percentage point change, not a percent change.

Source: Census 2000 and ACS 2009

There’s debate to be sure on the value of public transit, but clearly New York has outperformed on getting people onto buses and trains. How has that changed commute time? Let’s take a look:

Source: Census 2000 and ACS 2009

The city of Chicago had a much bigger drop in commute times. I personally wouldn’t be too excited about this since since lower commute times nationally appear to be driven (so to speak) by the poor economy rather than transport efficiency. Whatever the case, New York performed slightly better on a regional basis.

Before concluding I should note that the ACS survey has a margin of error associated with it, which should be taken into account before reading too much into changes in values derived from it. I’m only reporting the headline number.


While Chicago had a couple of bright spots, it’s pretty clear that not only is New York ahead of Chicago, something that is to be expected, but it is pulling away. It would be easy to say that New York is one of a kind and that nobody can compete with it. Well, it is one of a kind, and while it isn’t a direct competition, Chicago was doing far better than New York as recently as 15 years ago. So it can be done and indeed was being done.

The reality is that Chicago is falling behind versus traditional peer cities, to say nothing of emerging global cities around the planet. Perhaps it’s not a direct competition, but if you aren’t creating jobs, economic output, and wealth, you aren’t going to be able to make the investments to stay relevant. One reason New York has been doing what it has been on the public space and transportation front and Chicago has not is that New York is in a lot better shape financially. We are watching the cultural institutions of Detroit get dismantled before our eyes as that city can no longer afford them. Clearly, Chicago is no Detroit and never will be. But that can serve as a sort of cautionary tale of what happens when the wealth generating capacity of your city erodes. Chicago is going to find it tougher and tougher to keep up unless it figures out a way to restore the regional economic engine to good working order. That, more than anything, is the key challenge not just for the next mayor, but for all the city and regional leadership.

Topics: Demographic Analysis, Economic Development, Public Policy, Strategic Planning, Transportation
Cities: Chicago, New York

35 Responses to “Chicago’s Eroding Competitive Performance (Chicago vs. New York)”

  1. the urban politician says:

    The very premise of this post is incredibly flawed.

    1. You showed us a bunch of stats that do not weigh favorably for Chicago and then assumed a cause and effect (“Chicago is falling behind because it is not addressing transportation design as well as New York”). No–you can’t do that. Houston is kicking everybody’s butt but do you see them building a world class transit and bike-lane system?

    2. You compared Chicago to New York and called them “peer cities”. I realize Chicago was pulling ahead of New York in the 90’s, but at no point have I ever viewed them as peer cities; Chicago continues to be humbled over and over again when people keep comparing it to one of the greatest and most important cities ever created in the history of the human race. I have long felt that the ongoing comparisons between Chicago and NY sell Chicago short of the great city that it is.

    3. How about comparing Chicago to LA? That may be a more fair analysis. When compared to LA, Chicago is looking much, much better, despite the fact that it is a smaller city that is a bit more stagnant in its growth.

    4. Going back to post #2, the latest unemployment data shows Chicago’s unemployment rate now better than Atlanta and San Francisco’s, along with LA, Detroit, and Miami. Six months ago, Chicago was only outperforming the latter three cities. Again, you cannot fairly judge Chicago’s performance by simply comparing it to one extremely successful city.

  2. the urban politician says:

    Some data to round out what I stated above:

    The next two links point to a growth in exports and industrial output in the past year. The Seventh district outpaced the nation in growth in industry output in the last year. Some (cautiously) encouraging signs:

    My point? Don’t count out Chicago & its midwestern hinterland in the midst of a horrific recession, especially if we’re going to compare it unfavorably to humanity’s greatest urban endeavor (NYC), also considering that many of the largest tax-producing institutions in the latter city received perhaps three quarters of a trillion dollars in Federal bail out money last year. It’s not unreasonable to ask that if it were not for the bail out, how would NYC’s numbers be looking right now?

    Give it a few years, let industry and exports recover, let America’s metros hit their stride again, and then lets make a fair comparison across the board.

  3. Anna B says:

    It’s hard to compare anything to New York, really, so you’re using a tough standard. (Not that New York is best, it’s just an outlier. I mean, of course more people would take transit in NYC – who wants to drive and park there?)

    But the point about Chicago stagnating is well taken. It probably won’t really turn around until the new administration, now that Daley is a lame duck, but here’s hoping the city gets someone great. There are so many awesome grassroots initiatives and Chicago citizens really driven to make it a better place; if the official institutions could work harder to do the same, the city will really blossom.

  4. Jason Mann says:

    At the least what I like about your approach to studying Chicago today (the end of a Mayoral era) is to not just compare it to two decades ago, but to compare it to other cities over that same period. Not to take anything away from Daley (well, I guess I am trying to do that somewhat), but a lot ink is being spilled these days giving Daley credit for positive things that also happened in a lot of other cities over the last two decades–New York being one of them. Meanwhile, the crime rate and the fiscal stability are in very dire straits these days in Chicago, much more so than some of these other peer cities. A case could be made that North America went through an urban renaissance over the last two decades and Mayor Daley helped guide Chicago through that period, but he didn’t do as well as many other cities in managing the urban boom (New York, Boston, San Fran, LA and Seattle, to name a few).

  5. Ed Sanderson says:

    Follow the money…

    What shape would Manhattan be in if the Bush and Obama administrations had not poured tens of billions of dollars into rescuing its vital financial industry?

    Conversely, what kind of shape would Chicago (or any other city) be in if that kind of money had been sent its way?

  6. the urban politician says:


    The major area in which I see a missed opportunity for the recent incarnation of the Daley dynasty to really put their clout and power to good use for the city was his complete inability to do anything about mass transit.

    Mass transit in the past few decades has been about business as usual. Unlike cities like Toronto, Chicago has no plan (other than some writing on paper and visionary plans which have no direct impact on policy) to create a more mass-transit friendly city. When I ride the Orange Line it pains me to see suburban style strip malls right next to some of the trains stops.

    There is no unifying vision. It is simply a collection of random, disconnected, politically motivated projects that eventually get funded. The car is king for Daley and, to be honest, his entire generation of Baby Boomers. For Chicago in the early 2000’s, mass transit was just a political poker chip.

    To me, this is the biggest area in which Chicago is slipping behind the world.

  7. the urban politician says:


    TARP is the 800 lb gorilla in the room in this discussion, and I think anyone comparing any city to New York would be wise to take that into account.

    Imagine the economic wreckage that would be New York if its largest financial institutions–the cornerstone of its economic might–had been allowed to fail. On the same token, pump hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars into the Chicago area’s largest corporations and I wonder how different the numbers in Aaron’s graph would look.

    For anyone interested, take a look:

  8. I’m curious to know how much of NYC and Chicago’s economic situation can be attributed to specific state policies, state budgets, and state employment situations. Unfortunately, we do not have independent “city states”. Even the largest cities are beholden to sometimes backwards regional policies which affect local economies.

    In other words, some states look out for their urban progeny better than others.

  9. Ed Sanderson says:

    Follow the money, take two…

    I should have done this homework before my last post.

    State Income Tax on >$20,000 = 6.85%
    NYC Sales Tax = 8.875%
    NYC Graduated Income Tax (Residents) = $3,071 + 3.648% over $90,000
    Real Estate Taxes = 17% for Class 1, 10.4% for Class — like elsewhere who knows what this means.

    How many cities can collect this type of money from their citizens?

  10. Alon Levy says:

    Where would Manhattan be if the federal government hadn’t collected $93 billion more from its metro area than it gave back in spending every year up to 2008?

  11. the urban politician says:


    Where would so many of America’s older cities be if they weren’t net tax donors?

    But that doesn’t change the reality that while the nation was slipping into a major and deep recession, New York received by far a disproportionate piece of the bailout pie.

  12. Alon Levy says:

    True, but New York has been an unusually large tax donor. The state of the finance industry is such that in times of growth, it generates windfall tax revenue for the feds, and in times of recession, it requires bailouts.

    I think the overall effect of this arrangement on city health is actually negative. The more pronounced the business cycle is, the harder it is to do any long-term planning. Local politicians get away with giving away freebies in good times, forcing painful cuts when there isn’t as much money to go around. In one aspect, Chicago is healthier than New York: it has a more diverse economy, with weaker business cycles.

  13. Chris Barnett says:

    TUP, Aaron is comparing TWO major metros, not EVERY major US metro. Chicago is probably as close to a peer as NYC has in the US considering geography, mass (urbanized core), transportation, climate, finance, and economic diversity. There is something to be gained from one-to-one comparisons.

    Interesting that employment in Chicago suffered worse and for longer post-9/11. That really seems to be at the root of the comparative differences up to 2008 (though that’s a tough call since some of the critical data series end pre-recession and none catch the full cycle down).

  14. Vin says:

    I think NYC’s big lead in employment during the 2000s may have had to do with the finance boom. You could perhaps argue that big gains in consulting during the 90s – as Aaron has pointed out before – drove Chicago’s growth during that decade.

    I’d be curious to see a comparison of Chicago, NYC and LA. While LA’s population is growing, I don’t think its economy is in better shape than that of Chicago.

  15. the urban politician says:


    I disagree that Chicago and New York are peers that can fairly be compared.

    New York enjoys the benefit of being perhaps one of only 2 urban centers on the planet that has accrued so much wealth, importance, attention, and adoration at an international level (songs, books, TV shows, films) that it is simply impossible for Chicago to compete (great example: nearly every Bollywood film in India that is set in the US is set in NYC. To Indians, there is no place in the US outside of NYC, apparently). The amount of free advertising New York gets from the media alone has entire generations convinced that New York is the “center of the world” and is the place where “one goes to find love”, or where “the best of the best go to live”. One can go on and on.

    And yes, all of that is fine. But at the end of the day, a Chicago/New York comparison is nowhere near being fair, despite these cities’ superficial similarities.

  16. Tim says:

    Another huge issue facing Chicago: subprime mortgages. This is escpecially true on the south side; an area promoted as “turning the corner” in the 90s – 2006. All the condo construction in the city in the last 10 years will be a drag on the city for the next 10 years. Real estate related work was a huge part of the “boom” during this period.

  17. Thanks for the comments. Briefly:

    TUP, for what it’s worth, I agree with you on LA and regarding public transit.

    TARP probably wasn’t a big factor as it wasn’t signed until the end of 2008, meaning it affects mostly 2009 data.

    NYC actually only has a two percentage point higher employment concentration in finance than New York. Only 8.9% of New Yorkers work in finance activities. I suspect the output and income percentages are higher, but NY is more diverse than people give it credit for.

  18. the urban politician says:


    TARP was a big factor in that I think without it NYC’s numbers would have looked much worse than they actually are after 2008, as was the case in the rest of the country. To some degree, this accounts for NYC’s “pulling away” from the field especially recently.

    The benefits of TARP are keeping alive the Wall St bonuses and keeping afloat an industry that yields enormous financial rewards for the city of New York, even if it doesn’t employ a necessarily large proportion of the city’s population. Those bonuses could certainly inflate the per capita GDP numbers, the GDP itself, and they go a long way towards allowing the city to maintain services and continue contracting with private contractors, and the companies that supply them, etc. So indirectly, that would have an impact on regional employment.

    How much? I certainly am not in a position to say, and I wouldn’t presume that it explains all of the differences, but perhaps somebody else can answer that.

  19. JoeRo says:

    TUP – I think you’re overlooking one aspect of TARP that is important in this context. The intent of TARP was not to buoy one city’s economy, it was to buoy the entire country’s economy. The implication of your argument that TARP has skewed the numbers of NYC vs. other cities’ numbers stops short of acknowledging that other cities’ numbers would also have been significantly affected by the failure of the federal government to enact the TARP program. Allow massive trauma to occur to the heart of the financial world and you not only hurt those who work in that heart, but every business, in every other location, that is connected to that heart.

  20. Jim Russell says:

    How much did TARP help Charlotte?

  21. Alon Levy says:

    It’s not actually true that New York pulled away. For one, the local area income numbers only go up to 2008, which by itself was about 75% pre-TARP. And in 2008 New York did not pull away: it stayed at the exact same percentage of US income as in 2007, 137%.

  22. the urban politician says:


    I’m not suggesting that TARP didn’t buoy the nation’s economy. The entire capitalist world relies on healthy banks and lending. I couldn’t agree more.

    But what did TARP do?

    1. It prevented bank failure, which could have made things ten times worse than they are for the nation.
    2. It saved banks, but lending still slowed to a trickle. The national economy is still suffering.
    3. It specifically helped New York’s economy in one major way: it preserved the Wall Street bonus. We all read the news: even after receiving TARP money lavish bonuses were still paid out. There is no American city that benefits from these payouts anywhere nearly as much as New York does.

    So if weren’t for TARP, the whole nation’s economy would be in the toilet, and New York down there with them (or perhaps even worse, since New York has more infrastructure to maintain than anyplace else and relies heavily on its finance industry to sustain it). Now, instead, the whole nation’s economy is on the rim (instead of inside of) the toilet, while New York is perhaps a notch or two below business as usual–all thanks to TARP.

  23. John says:

    It would be interesting to see these charts compare more cities.

  24. pete-rock says:

    Very interesting comments. Some I agree with, others I don’t.

    I do think the Chicago/New York comparison is a little unfair toward Chicago. Chicago may come closer than any US city to comparing with NYC in many measures but it still falls short. LA may be a more appropriate comparison.

    Impact of TARP money, lack of emphasis on mass transit, impact of state policies on metro economies — yes, all have had some sort of impact on perceived economic performance and relative decline between Chicago and New York. But I think the answer for Chicago’s eroding competitive performance is far more subjective and impressionistic, and Aaron hit it on the head in his first paragraph.

    I would agree with Aaron that Chicago reached a peak with Millenium Park. It was the culmination of one phase of the transformation of Chicago from industrial powerhouse to post-industrial global city. But I think two crucial things happened at that time — 1) there was some sort of existential crisis the city experienced as residents began wondering what kind of city we were trying to become, and 2)Mayor Daley, the undisputed leader of this transformation, began losing energy and momentum, in large part because of #1.

    This became apparent to me in our attempt to get the 2016 Olympics. I was like a lot of others who believed that the Olympics would provide the incentive to get the necessary mass transit, infrastructure and other improvements, and also strengthen global networks that would improve Chicago’s position as a global economic engine. But support for the Olympics was not nearly as universal as Mayor Daley and the business community would like observers to believe. There were substantial numbers of residents who believed the Olympics was a fool’s errand that simply distracted local government from immediate matters like escalating crime and poor schools.

    In essence, after Millenium Park Mayor Daley began to feel the drag of those who were feeling left behind. That has slowed Chicago’s competitive performance as much as anything.

  25. pete-rock says:


    I want to clarify that the rumblings of those feeling left behind did not begin with Millenium Park or the Olympic bid. It began in the ’90s with residents who felt the city’s emphasis on downtown revitalization, planter medians, wrought-iron fences and bike lanes had little impact on middle-class and working-class families. But because Mayor Daley is the consummate politician, mayoral challengers who tried to drive this issue over the last 4 elections or so have never gained traction.

  26. JoeRo says:

    Jim Russell:

    More banking resources ($2.3 trillion) are headquartered in Charlotte than all but one other U.S. city. Five of the nation’s top 25 banks operate in Charlotte. Bank of America, the nation’s largest and the second largest bank in the world, is headquartered there. Bank of America received tens of billions of dollars in TARP money.

    I’m not sure if you referred to Charlotte to support or argue against my point, but, either way, you kinda proved my point for me. Thanks.

  27. Jim Russell says:


    I figured Charlotte would be a good test case given its heavy (some would say “over”) reliance on finance.

  28. the urban politician says:


    Charlotte may be the official HQ of Bank of America but we all know that New York is where most of their action happens. And you better believe that a heck of a lot more TARP money directed to B of A went to Manhattanites than to Carolinians (is that the correct term for them?)

  29. the urban politician says:


    Your observation that, in a sense, Chicago had an existential crisis in the mid 2000’s in an interesting one. This should be explored more.

  30. Chris Barnett says:

    To repeat a comment I made earlier: the evidence shows a slow recovery for Chicago post 9/11.

    Re pete-rock’s observation: Cause, effect, or merely correlated?

    Though Chicago’s economy is very diverse, a chunk of it is related to travel and tourism (O’Hare, McCormick Place, United, Hyatt), which hasn’t really recovered post 9/11…plus, McCormick Place earned a deserved high-cost convention reputation. Then there is traditional retail (Sears. Everyone’s heard of the Willis Tower, right?) Also, its one big national bank was gobbled up (Bank One, by Chase) in the last decade. Its big oil company (Amoco) was gobbled up by BP. Its big steel company (Inland) was gobbled up by Ispat, then by ArcelorMittal. (The Bethlehem Burns Harbor works in NW Indiana also became part of ArcelorMittal.)

    “Existential crisis” is one explanation. Corporate mergers and downsizing is another. Fewer corporate headquarters means lower top salaries, less legal work, less travel. It’s no wonder they went after Boeing’s HQ so hard, and more recently, Navistar’s tech center.

  31. the urban politician says:


    If you look at the data, New York and Chicago have lost a similar proportion of their Fortune 500 corporate HQ in the past few decades.

    While losing HQ is not a good thing, I’m not sure it is enough to explain the many phenomenon displayed in Aaron’s data. Chicago was already losing HQ’s in the 90’s, which also happens to be the same decade in which the city/region reportedly was doing so well.

  32. Eric says:

    I read this post the hour it was published and have become a little more befuddled as time passes. I broadly agree with its conclusion but don’t quite understand the presentation.

    New York has arguably always been America’s most significant city and it may have never have been more significant than it is right now. America is the Roman Empire and New York is Rome. Chicago doesn’t need to be ashamed to be Constantinople. As the economy globalizes, New York looks like America’s most important business center and Chicago looks like the most important city in an important region of 75 million people.

    So while I agree that Chicago is probably underperforming relative to New York, the evidence presented here seems cherry-picked. When Chicago’s metro data look better, “Well, it’s not as good as New York’s city data.” When Chicago’s city data looks good, then it doesn’t compare favorably to New York metro.

    The parking meter lease and failed Olympic bid are presented as ill omens, but they are both objective positives. The parking meter lease is hated by many. It’s hated by 22 year-olds who grew up in Lake county and think that you should get in your car to drive from Lakeview to Roscoe Village. It’s hated by the aging NIMBYs who attend every alderman’s meeting complaining about each new high-density development proposal that “Should be a park instead. Or maybe a Target as long as there’s parking.” Leasing the meters is one of the most pro-urban policies implemented in Chicago in the last five years.

    As for the Olympic bid. The execution was excellent and the bid was the best one submitted by any candidate city in recent memory. Anecdotally, the money spent was efficient marketing for the city, if the emails from my friends in Europe are indicative of perceptions overseas. If Daley and the USOC had known that America probably won’t host another summer Olympics in the next 30-years, Chicago probably would not have bid. It was clear to me before the bid began that the Olympic committee was made up of avaricious third-world functionaries, but I didn’t fully understand the ramifications. Regardless, Chicago beat its peer cities in a chance to represent the USOC and, fairly or not, lost swinging for the fences. It was worth a shot. We don’t call the losing team in the Superbowl “losers.”

    On the topic of cherry-picking, in a comment Aaron states that NYC has only 2% higher representation in finance than the state. Since New York state has a population of about 20 million and New York Metro about 19 million–some non-trivial fraction of these in other states–I don’t think that analysis is very convincing. Especially since, I’m guessing, the average wage in finance is about 3x higher in NYC than it is in, say, Atlanta.

    Maybe Chicago is starting to lose its Mojo. I’m interested in learning about it. This piece got me thinking, but kind of in the same way a sports-radio DJ gets me thinking, “this guy is trying to stir something up, but I’m not sure he really believes what he’s saying.”

  33. Eric,

    I’m curious about the cherry picking point. I used every core economic statistic, reported for both city and metro where available. Other than using total numbers instead of percentages (which will make New York look massively stronger than Chicago simply because it is bigger), what data do you think was omitted?

  34. the urban politician says:


    Cherry-picking is usually employed by those with an agenda who are more interested in using data to prove their point than simply analyzing data, honestly and objectively, and subsequently drawing a conclusion from it.

    Fox News is a great example of an entity that does a lot of cherry-picking to make Democrats look bad.

    In fairness, I think Aaron has every intention of being objective, and I genuinely mean that. But I can’t help but think, after reading his views about Chicago for the past few years, that there may be an element of what you accuse him of. There is an element of giving “the benefit of the doubt” to cities which you truly like, while doing the opposite to cities that you have mixed or negative feelings about. All in all, I see Aaron doing the former more with cities in Indiana, especially Indianapolis, and less so with other places, especially in these hard economic times.

    Under cloak of subtlety, there persists a hint of resentment from Hoosiers, Michiganders, Iowans, Wisconsinites, and Missourians to the midwest’s goliath–and the longer you’re around the more you pick up on it. It may not be outright disdain, but I think that even among the most well-intentioned of the bunch, that faint resentment has a way of manifesting itself in a more passive-aggressive manner, even if not conscious or intentional.

    This is not much different from my own resentments, being a Chicago booster, towards New York City, despite the fact that I absolutely adore that latter city and had a blast the years that I lived there.

  35. Wanderer says:

    If you want to compare Los Angeles and Chicago on transit improvements, LA is beating the pants off Chicago. While Chicago certainly has a larger share of commuters on transit at present, the LA region has been working very hard to upgrade the system. There is a dedicated regional sales tax devoted to transit expansion and transit service. LA Mayor Villaraigosa has been pressing the federal government to make a giant loan to LA to allow it to build out the system much faster, to be repaid by the sales taxes. It actually seems like some such deal to accelerate the construction of a light rail line in a poor South Los Angeles area. LA isn’t a transit city like Chicago now, but it is working to become one.

    I don’t see anything like this happening in Chicago.

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