Tuesday, December 20th, 2011

Chicago: What’s Changed? What Hasn’t? by Richard C. Longworth

[ After reading this blog post on Richard Longworth’s own blog I went out and bought Global Chicago, which I think is still relevant today, even if some of the chapters that are mere compilations of Chicago’s global assets won’t excite out of towners. I wanted to share his post with you, which takes a look at where Global Chicago stands today – Aaron. ]

A few years ago, The Chicago Council published a book called Global Chicago, with two goals in mind. The first was a wake-up call to Chicagoans that their old industrial City of the Big Shoulders was gone, replaced by a global city with new strengths and challenges. The second was an attempt — probably the first anywhere — to study globalization's impact on cities by looking hard at one of those cities.

I was talking recently with the editor of the book, Charles Madigan, then a writer and editor at the Chicago Tribune (as was I), now Presidential Writer in Residence at Roosevelt University in Chicago. We were exploring what's changed in Chicago since the book came out, and what is unchanged — or still undone.

Perhaps the biggest change is that the wake-up call no longer is needed. The educational job is done. Chicagoans get it. Maybe we can take some credit, but mostly, it's the daily evidence of globalization's effect on the city that has convinced Chicagoans that it's not their granddaddy's economy any more. "Global city" and "Global Chicago" are buzzwords now.

The book listed many problems that absolutely needed to be solved — crumbling infrastructure, an antiquated public transportation system, a school system that fails the majority of its students. The sad fact is that so many remain unresolved to this day. As The Chicago Council and other civic organizations have written since, all these issues are still at the top of the city's agenda.

But one item barely appeared at all: how to pay for all this. The book appeared after the recession of the early Bush years, just as the false boom of the past decade began. Money seemed plentiful. It was more of a matter of fixing civic priorities than of financing them. The keywords of today's headlines — "budget," "debt," "deficit," "employees," "pensions," "taxes," "fees" — appear nowhere in the book's index.

How times do change (and remember, this was less than a decade ago). Urban financing, almost a non-topic then, is the Big Issue now. Chicago still needs to fix its schools, roads, sewers, public transport. But mostly it has to figure out how to pay its bills in an era of big debts and big deficits.

The city is awash now in financing ideas, including the privatization of public services like Midway Airport and a plethora of user fees to raise money. Some of this has already happened, like the privatization of the Chicago Skyway, which seems to be working, and of the city's parking meters, which isn't. But none of these new ideas, including privatization, was even on the civic agenda when the book came out. 

Chicago also is toying now with proposals for a casino or other forms of gambling to raise money. Back then, some leaders wanted a casino, but it never came close to being built. 

When the book came out, Chicago was on an upswing, drawing in people and business from around the world, growing in jobs and output. But decline lay around the corner. Since then, as a new report by Metropolitan Strategies says, Chicago has lagged the national average in economic growth, job creation, population growth, patent output and other measures of economic vitality.

Global Chicago celebrated a global city on the make. I suspect a new edition, published now, would be a more somber book.

Since then, Chicago has tackled two huge projects and succeeded at one, failed at the other. The success was Millennium Park, the huge and glittering downtown park that has given Chicago what it always lacked, which was a Tuileries, a central meeting place where the divided and balkanized city could come together. It also has changed the face of the city by revitalizing the Loop, the tattered old business district south of the Chicago River.

The failure was the bid to get the 2016 Olympic Games to Chicago. The bid itself was anemic and inadequate, not a patch of the Olympics project that Barcelona, for instance, used to remake itself. Perhaps more than anything else, the Olympics bid was the work of a tired old guard that, after Millennium Park, had run out of ideas. It was Mayor Daley's swan song, the last big initiative before he retired.

His retirement and the election of Rahm Emanuel as mayor is the most obvious change since the book came out. The book talked about how Mayor Richard M. Daley had taken the Democratic Machine created by his father, Mayor Richard J. Daley, and adapted it to the new chores of a global city. That Machine still exists, but with new people in charge. No one knows whether they will simply pour new wine into the old bottle, as did Daley II, or will reform Chicago politics from the ground up.

The financial sector of the city suffered back then from the lack of a major locally-owned bank. That hasn't changed. But in 2004, the big LaSalle Street markets, like the Board of Trade and Chicago Mercantile Exchange, were permanent parts of the financial landscape. Now the Merc is threatening to leave town to a more tax-friendly haven.

One question not asked in the book: is it possible to have a first-class city without first-class newspapers? No need to ask the question then: Chicago had two fine papers. The papers still exist but are so crippled by job cuts, coverage restrictions and bankruptcies that no one would call them first-rate.

The book talked about the impact of immigrants on Chicago. Even then, demographic shifts were reshaping the city. Both blacks and whites have moved out of the city. Immigration into the city has slowed (possibly a blip, due to the recession), meaning that Chicago lost 200,000 people between 2000 and 2010: it's now down no less than 1 million persons, or 25 percent of its population, since its industrial peak in 1950.

But there's more to this shift than raw statistics. First, the Chicago region is sprawling, with exurban town and counties growing, mostly with whites. Latino growth is weakest in the city, strongest in the suburbs. White population is shrinking in the inner ring suburbs, but is growing strongly in the center of the city.

What's happening is something that wasn't seen when the book came out — the Europeanization of Chicago. As in many European cities, the center of Chicago is increasingly going upscale, becoming a province of wealthier white global citizens, while both blacks and Latinos are pushed out of the city into the suburbs.

One cause and result of this is improving public schools — for some Chicagoans. There is considerable anecdotal evidence of good public schools in more upscale city neighborhoods, plus private schools for those who can afford them. But all other evidence indicates that schools in less favored parts of the cities haven't improved at all, and still fail to graduate 40 or 50 percent of their students.

The book focused on continued economic vitality but seldom asked: vitality for whom? As urban financing moves front and center, Chicago has to ask itself what kind of a city it wants to be. It clearly wants to be a global city, drawing in the sort of people who can afford to live anywhere. But can it do this without pricing everyone else out of the city? Those census figures mentioned above don't give confidence.

Finally, the question of Chicago's relationship to its region is more vital now than then. This doesn't mean its relationship to the broader Midwest, although this is still important. But rather, in these straitened times, how can the city take its immediate economic region — from Milwaukee through northern Indiana and into western Michigan — and get it work together across state lines, to reinvent itself as a global megacity, as so many other cities and regions around the world are doing? 

Richard C. Longworth is a Senior Fellow at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, author of the book Caught in the Middle: America’s Heartland in the Age of Globalism, and host of www.globalmidwest.org.

This post originally appeared in The Midwesterner blog of the Global Midwest Initiative of the Chicago Council of Global Affairs on October 25, 2011.

Topics: Demographic Analysis, Economic Development, Education, Globalization, Public Policy, Talent Attraction, Transportation
Cities: Chicago

13 Responses to “Chicago: What’s Changed? What Hasn’t? by Richard C. Longworth”

  1. Jon Hendricks says:

    “while both blacks and Latinos are pushed out of the city into the suburbs.”

    Pushed? Is there any evidence to back this claim up? How do we know blacks and Latinos are not moving out of the city in order to pursue jobs and better neighborhoods? Like, oh I don’t know, maybe white European immigrants did 50 years ago. Contrary to the claims in the above post, actual migration patterns are far more nuanced and largely moving towards a more diverse distribution of ethnic residence. According to U of Chicago Census maps (see link below) blacks are leaving ghettos on the South Side and moving into suburbs, the Loop, the northwestern edge of the South Side, and the northwestern edge of the City. Hispanics are leaving the West Side and a portion of the northwestern part of the City and moving into the suburbs and more westerly parts of the South Side and North Side. There is a net gain of blacks and Latinos into many of the affluent North Side neighborhoods. And many of the outer ring suburbs have net gains among all of the ethnic groups mapped (whites, blacks, Hispanics, and Asians).

    See http://www.lib.uchicago.edu/e/su/maps/chieth0010_region.html

  2. Jon, you’re overlooking the elephant in the room: the CHA Plan for Transformation that demolished the high rise projects and sent most of the residents packing – including many of them far out of state.

  3. Jon Hendricks says:

    Fair enough regarding black out-migration of the South Side ghettos, but the public housing policy change doesn’t account for black in-migration patterns into affluent City neighborhoods and the Southwestern, Western, and Northern suburbs nor Hispanic migration patterns.

  4. Douglas says:

    Of course inner urban areas are becoming more affluent. High energy prices tend to do that coupled with rapidly changing demographics.

    Baby Boomers do not want to live in suburbia. They want convenience, access to public transit, and low maintenance.

  5. George says:

    Douglas- As someone who has studied demographic and housing trends, it’s far to simple to state that “Baby Boomers do not want to live in suburbia”. There are many baby boomers who prefer urban living, and there are many baby boomers who prefer suburban living. While there is a defined drive/interest in walkability and greater density- that doesn’t translate directly to boomers moving into inner urban areas en masse. Many boomers who ultimately can and will downsize look for housing options with walkable amenities within their own communities- suburban, urban, semi-rural, etc.

  6. the urban politician says:

    Mr. Longworth wrote this obviously prior to the news “breaking” that CME and CBOE actually aren’t going to skip town (Oh my, what a surprise!).

    Regarding the “Europeanization of Chicago”, I’ll take it over the alternative: becoming more like Detroit or Buffalo. Unfortunately, the same sets of regulations/policies that favor the “global city” make it a less livable place for ordinary Joe Schmoes. And I’m fine with that–the problem is, Chicago is too large for all of its land area to become a “global playground”, so you get left with large swaths of space that you don’t know what to do with other than to build parks, shopping centers, and recycled ghettos.

  7. Alon Levy says:

    There are plenty of global cities that also work for ordinary residents: Zurich, Stockholm, Tokyo, Vancouver. Not all global cities have the inequality rate of New York. Just because something doesn’t exist in the US doesn’t mean it can’t exist given appropriate policies.

  8. the urban politician says:


    I agree, but I think the problem is an American one to begin with, not necessarily an issue with individual American cities. There are many reasons for this: one is the failure of the separated county-city-state system with all of their separate governments, in addressing particular the needs of a city/region, Chicago being one example. The other is America’s system of States, and how each of them enacts different policies to poach jobs off of the state bordering it. Finally, there is policy at the federal level that rewards companies for moving a lot of blue collar jobs overseas.

    What do you end up getting? 3 types of cities:

    1. Global cities with huge disparities between the rich and poor: Probably NY, Chicago, Bay Area, and LA would fit here

    2. Texas cities and other low tax, low-regulation cities where policies line up to attract the middle class and the companies that employ them. The global elite really isn’t too infaturated with these places, but they are certainly successful and livable. Think Houston, Dallas, Indianapolis

    3. Boomtowns–right now they are relatively early in the growth curve but we don’t know what the future holds for them. They may eventually evolve into #1, 2, or 4. Insert Las Vegas, Phoenix, Atlanta

    4. Dying cities–your rustbelt or fading single industry city. Detroit, Cleveland, Buffalo–come out from your hiding place

  9. the urban politician says:

    Oops, I meant to say 4 types of cities above

  10. TUP, I like that framework

  11. xmal says:

    Could it be that rather than a framework/typloogy, it’s actually a progression, as in:

    3 —–> 2 ——–> 3 —> ?
    or -> 4 or -> 4

    where cities go from boom, through growth, to bust, or reconfiguration as global cities? It seems like most of the growth cities are relatively new and based to a large extent on poaching industry from the unionized, high-cost North.

    Are these high-growth cities actually sustainable, or will the work just move to the next lower-cost area (Mexico/China) or the next set of boom-towns?

  12. Alon, I don’t know all those cities in detail, but I do know that Vancouver’s real estate prices are stratospheric (and that’s also true in places like Zurich). That certainly doesn’t help the ordinary Joe looking to live in one of those cities.

  13. Alon Levy says:

    I’m less sure about Vancouver (I may know more details later, though), but in Switzerland the issue is that the currency is severely overvalued. Rents are stratospheric, and so are wages. I don’t know how much one should trust those rankings, but Zurich and Geneva top lists of highest-real-wage cities as well as lists of most livable cities; New York and London do not.

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