Tuesday, December 20th, 2011
[ 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.