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Thursday, July 5th, 2012

State of Chicago: New Century Strengths

This article is part of the State of Chicago.

Before I say anything else I want to give a shout out of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. I’ve been pounding on the idea that Chicago has been overly focused on “global” at the expense of its traditional domestic and regional role as “Capital of the Midwest,” a role which, like it or not, still greatly shapes the city’s economic fortunes.

As recently as May, the Guardian (UK) was saying that, regarding luring the NATO summit to Chicago, “Emanuel is motivated by a desire to reposition the city from the capital of the midwest to a global player.” However, just this week Rahm again got some nice international press in the Guardian, and was quoted as saying, “We are the capital of the midwest, but we also gather people from all over the country. We are a city of immigrants, from America and the rest of the world.”

Interesting shift. And I really thought this last piece hit the right tone. It makes a clear statement of Chicago’s principal role, while not ignoring its role as a global destination for people (and investment, and tourism, and more). I really haven’t seen a complete statement from Rahm on how he sees Chicago role in the future, and I don’t want to read too much into this. But it sounds positive. I’m glad to see the mayor looking beyond global only to a more broad conception of Chicago.

This is the next installment in my State of Chicago series. I previously discussed Chicago’s powerful recovery from the Rust Belt era, and its subsequent struggles in the new century.

Today I want to look at the other side of my last piece, namely the strengths Chicago has today. If you think about the current challenges in comparison to the ones in the 70s and early 80s, well, there is no comparison. Back then, in an era when big cities were in decline across the board, it wouldn’t have been unreasonable to think that Chicago could head the direction of Detroit. Today that seems like a remote possibility given that there are so many strengths that the city has to partially offset its demographic and economic weakness.

This is partially intended to be a collaborative, open thread post. If you’ve got other items to share, please do, and I may promote some of the comments to the main article if warranted.

  • The first strength is that today big cities seem to be back in favor. While that doesn’t mean small cities aren’t also doing well, today is nothing like the 1970s for big cities. Thus Chicago has a bit of “wind at its back.”
  • Chicago is a true urban environment with genuine density, walkabilty, transit, and a thriving core. This is pretty rare in America and produces a compelling, differentiated product. Chicago’s infrastructure may be creaky, with a large tab for repairs, but at least that’s feasible in comparison to the retrofits some people are trying to take on in other places to try to create urbanism where it doesn’t exist.
  • Chicago is the capital of the Midwest, and the entire American interior really. As the only traditional big city in the region, it has a gigantic catchment area for drawing people and providing services. For those who want or need an urban environment and are in the center of the country, Chicago is really the only game in town.
  • Chicago’s core is extremely powerful. It has America’s second largest downtown business district and is one of the rare downtowns that is actually remaining strong as a bona fide commercial center. Anecdotally I’ve read more stories of businesses relocating from the suburbs to downtown in Chicago than anywhere else. The city is seeing even corporate headquarters return to downtown. The so-called “Loop U” has brought 60,000 students downtown and invigorated street life. The tourism draw remains powerful.
  • At 9.5 million people, Chicago has the scale for basically anything and everything.
  • Chicago does have aspects of global city to it: the finance center functions, globally exported professional services, and significant international connectivity for both passengers and freight. I don’t think this is sufficient to carry the region, but the city is certainly better with it than without it.
  • While the city does not have a high value “calling card” industry, there are various specialization in Chicago: derivatives, architecture, some segments of professional services (like privatization contracts), logistics, and various cultural items. (And of course a broadly diversified economy comes with its own advantages).
  • Chicago has significant accumulations of high end talent, and the educated classes have not abandoned the city. It also has bond fide top tier educational institutions like the University of Chicago and Northwestern University.
  • Chicago is a beautiful city with high quality of place. It has a magnificent lakefront setting and an iconic skyline of course. It is well-known for its architecture. But it also has a lot of other things like tree-lined streets that can surprise people expecting a concrete jungle (Chicago’s residential streets are more pleasant than any other larger Midwest city I’ve visited), no power lines on city streets (not even arterials), alleys to avoid on-street trash and other issues, etc.
  • Chicago is still to a great extent the “city that works.” While crime gets a lot of attention and needs to be addressed and the CTA is a bit rickety, most city services are provided at pretty high levels and effectively, whether that be garbage collection or the best street lighting of any city I’ve ever seen.
  • Chicago is a legitimate center of high culture, with a world class symphony and opera company, a thriving theater scene, a well-known music scene, excellence in the culinary arts, etc.
  • Chicago has another larger than life, well connected, celebrity mayor. While this might have its downsides like too much focus on elite sectors of the community, it has huge advantages. Rahm can pick up the phone and call any CEO he wants, a vast array of political leaders, etc. That’s one reason he’s been able to get so many large corporate job announcements. I see a lot of cities with Average Joe type mayors and you can really see the difference having a high horsepower guy in the corner office makes.
  • Chicago is on Lake Michigan, and so has access to ample supplies of fresh water (though several suburbs reliant on ground water have possible issues). Hoisted from comment by Eric.

That’s a good list to get us started. Comments and contributions welcome.

40 Comments
Topics: Demographic Analysis, Economic Development, Globalization, Talent Attraction
Cities: Chicago
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40 Responses to “State of Chicago: New Century Strengths”

  1. JB says:

    St. Louis and Cincinnati have arguably more beautiful residential and historical architecture than Chicago, but Chicago’s scale overwhelms any other city in the Midwest. I also find it strange that you find Chicago to be the only authentic urban city in the Midwest. The Midwest has plenty of authentic large urban cities Detroit, Cleveland, St. Louis, Cincinnati come off the top of the head. The economics and political will is just not there to support the cohesive urban vitality that these center cities need to be perceived as hip or “authentic”. Other than that this article is spot on.

  2. marko says:

    I’m getting curious as to what is happening in SE Chicago, Hammond, Gary, Burns Harbor etc. I can see NW Indiana from my home and in the past 2 years the Steel Mills have been going full tilt 24 /7. Lake freighters pass by every couple hours loaded with ore and going north with steel. Theres no less than 10 tower cranes around the Whiting oil refineries which seems to indicate massive refinery capacity expansion. It does appear to this observer that an industrial renaissance ( at least in output if not jobs) is occurring. And I’d like to believe the region is becoming a larger energy player with the arrival of oil sands and new natural gaslines. This seems to be a story not told.

  3. Ryan says:

    I’d like to expand on points that you have touched on related to transportation. It’s what really drives the economy in many ways, what makes the Loop what it is. Chicago is where east meets west on the railroads – home to six of the Class I railroads that spur significant investments in logistics, intermodal, and trucking and rail classification facilities. In addition, Chicago has more main line interstate highways going through it than any other American city. The comprehensive freight rail network is also what has enabled commuter rail, of which Metra is the largest, most comprehensive system outside New York.

    It also has the airports, both Midway and O’Hare. At a time when airports are consolidating their hub operations, Chicago continues to maintain an elite status with many non-stop options all over the globe. This has enabled the Loop to keep its core business functions from leaving the city and why it has attracted other corporate facilities to it (i.e. Boeing). CTA, while rickety, is still provides the best network connectivity of almost any large city in the country based on Chicago’s grid network of major streets every half mile and the L which acts like a trunk network to downtown.

    Given the strengths of its integrated, comprehensive transportation networks among its other strengths that you have mentioned, I think a future similar to Detroit is extraordinarily unlikely.

  4. I agree with your premise that Daley focused on being a global city at the expense of ignoring the Midwest, I think that being a global city and the capital of the Midwest are not mutually exclusive. Some of your posts could be interpreted that you think they are mutually exclusive.

  5. Chigrowingeconomy says:

    Marko,

    I like what you brought up about SE Chicago/Gary/Hammond. Over the past couple of years several energy related companies have invested in or relocated their headquarters to Gary, Indiana. This is great news for people needing jobs in the industrial and manufacturing sector. Along with skilled trade workers, these growing industries have also brought many engineers to the area. Gary, Indiana has a new Mayor who is supposedly injecting lots of new interest in the area. I think this is just the beginning and I hope this rejuvenated industry gives a much needed lift to Gary and Hammond.

    It only makes the region as a whole more powerful.

  6. GT says:

    @Ryan – exactly. Transportation and logistics is mentioned in the list, but it could be in bold and underlined – the impact of Chicago’s dominance in the transportation network cannot be overstated. While the rail lines and highways make Chicago an American city, O’hare really makes Chicago a World City. Chicago’s ability to attract multi-national HQs, international finance and services, and management activities (where CHI dominates) is directly tied to its connectivity.

  7. pete-rock says:

    Question for the crowd. I do think that freight and passenger rail transportation is one area Chicago rules in. But it hasn’t been able to turn that into something that translates into economic dominance since air and highway travel really expanded over the last 70+ years. I don’t know much about rail and logistics; is there a way Chicago could turn it into a dominant sector? For example, take the leadership in logistics network design on a global scale, if there is such a thing? Or simply increasing the efficiency of the national rail network to make rail a more attractive and viable option to air and highway (I do know there are things like CREATE that are happening in that regard). Maybe this gets paired with engineering and infrastructure specialties somehow.

  8. Ryan says:

    @pete-rock I think its important to note that freight rail has seen a renaissance since deregulation and high gas prices. Freight rail is still the cheapest way to ship in bulk for many (most?) commodities. The Class I’s are in a position for reinvestment in their capital plant in Chicago at numbers beyond anything for the past 80 years or more. From the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) Policy Blog :

    The tri-state area is the continent’s premier rail hub. Chicago is the only hub to be served by six of the seven Class I railroads in the U.S., and handles 500 freight trains and 37,500 cars daily. This traffic represents half of U.S. rail freight movements. In fact, approximately one quarter of all U.S. freight movements pass through the Chicago region, including nearly half of intermodal units. The tri-state region enjoys close connection to major Pacific ports, handling 54 percent of intermodal units from Seattle/Tacoma and 26 percent from Los Angeles/Long Beach.

    The tri-state area is also a major trucking hub. Trucks carry about 43 percent of regional freight by volume and 73 percent by value. An estimated one in six vehicles on the region’s interstate highways are trucks. Trucks play an important role in transferring freight to and from rail and air connections in the region.

    Transportation plays a key role in the regional economy, contributing $16.9 billion to the regional economy in 2010. Of the various transportation activities, trucking added the most value to the regional economy ($4.3 billion), followed by air ($3.1 billion), and rail ($2.9 billion). Given the density of transportation infrastructure and traffic, the tri-state region is relatively specialized in transportation: over 20 percent more people in the tri-state region work in the transportation sector compared to the U.S. as a whole. In total, some 160,000 people work in transportation, or 4.5 percent of total employment in the tri-state region.

    Source: http://www.cmap.illinois.gov/policy-updates/-/blogs/oecd-territorial-review-assesses-mega-region-s-economy-part-4%3A-transportation-and-logistics

  9. George Mattei says:

    I would disagree that Chicago is the only “traditional big city” in the Midwest/central region. I think Detroit also qualifies. Now there’s a world of difference in size and qualities to the two cities, but I have always thought of the following comparisions:

    Northeast Midwest West

    #1 City New York Chicago Los Angeles

    #2 City Boston Detroit San Fran/Bay

    You cold argue that economically Detroit does not cast the shadow that Boston or San Fran does, but as for sheer size, it fits right in.

  10. George Mattei says:

    Darn, the formatting didn’t come out. Used spaces too. Oh well, you can stilll get the point.

  11. Chris Barnett says:

    marko, the BP (former Standard of Indiana/Amoco Oil) refinery in Whiting is becoming the world’s largest. And yes, it’s because of oil from Canada’s Tar Sands.

    NW Indiana remains North America’s largest steelmaking region.

    But neither Chicago nor Illinois benefits much from either, other than from proximity and spinoff effects and the fact that the prevailing winds blow the soot and smoke over Indiana and Michigan. The income and property tax base is in Indiana.

    Ryan, not sure where you’re getting your interstate claim. The “mainline” interstates that run through Chicago are 55, 80, 90, and 94. 57 and 88 start there but neither goes to a major city outside Illinois (88 never leaves the state and 57 only runs a few miles in Missouri before merging into 55). 65 ends in NW Indiana and does not cross into Illinois.

    Indianapolis has 65, 69, 70, and 74, all of which connect to cities outside the state of Indiana. St. Louis has 44, 55, 64, and 70. Dallas has 20, 30, 35, and 45.

    Maybe you can make a case that Chicago’s four interstates are all “major” in that they run almost to coasts or borders; at least one of Indy’s (74), one of St. Louis’ (64), and one of Dallas’ (30) is of less national importance.

    But it’s hard to argue that any one of those other three is any less central or important in national distribution networks. DFW is important to the passenger air system. IND is important in air freight due to its huge FedEx hub and in trucking/distribution due to its “sweet spot” in between Midwest, East Coast, and Southern cities. STL is important in trucking and rail.

  12. Chris Barnett says:

    George, the #2 city in the Northeast is Philadelphia, not Boston. By about a million people.

  13. the urban politician says:

    Chris, it depends if you are talking about population or economic/cultural/academic importance.

    Philly has more people, but Boston is leading in so many other ways.

  14. Matthew Hall says:

    Will Chicago’s location be as important as trade routes through the panama canal, to south America and across the pacific grow with exports while internal trade between american regions doesn’t grow as much.

  15. Eric says:

    I think that in the mid-term, 15 to 20 years, Chicago has a few other notable advantages over its peers.

    Water resources. Residents and industrial processes both require access to fresh water and cities in the upper Midwest have more access to this resource than any other region in the world. As regions in the South and Southwest add residents and drain aquifers, and potentially become stressed by climate change, the access to limitless water will be more important.

    Surrounded by productive land. It’s not a matter of if but when agribusiness will use biotechnology to produce fuels, advanced bioproducts, polymers and who knows what else from crops. The region around Chicago is second to none in agricultural productivity and the ability to distribute those commodities to world markets cheaply via the Mississippi, Ohio and Missouri river catchment. Companies like ADM and Corn Products International in Chicago, and Dow, Dupont and Monsanto in surrounding states, are growing these parts of their businesses at double digit rates. Chicago won’t be the only city to benefit, but just like OKC, Houston and Dallas all benefit from the oil/gas boom, Chicago will benefit as well.

    Automation. Within 20 years, perhaps within 10, automation will replace almost all low-skilled labor associated with assembly and distribution. The whole U.S. will benefit from re-shoring but Chicago stands to gain since labor issues will be less of a concern for manufacturers, so siting factories near distribution hubs will outweigh legacy labor concerns, as the cost of labor drops to zero.

    Plenty of room at the top. Some of Chicago’s peers are not really cities but just large, sub-urban developed areas. Chicago is one of a dozen or so “real” cities in the U.S., but it might be the only one that can absorb significant amounts of infill in the core. Chicago could expand near the Loop for decades before it had to worry about supply of developable land. if there is a “return to the city” of any form, Chicago’s supply would keep costs lower as demand increases.

    Plenty of room to improve attitudes. People are constantly saying, “I didn’t know Chicago was this fantastic.” Know one is surprised to learn that Houston is soulless and bland; that San Francisco is beautiful or that Boston has lots of nice brick. Chicago has lots of room to improve its image.

    Self-driving cars. Within about 20 years, car sharing will be preferable to owning since there will be easy, constant access to what is essential a limo service, sans any labor cost. Cities like Chicago that suffer from congestion will benefit. Cities like Nashville, Charlotte and Dallas will have found themselves to have significant misallocated investment in highway capacity.

  16. Lots of cities in the Midwest have pockets of urbanism – which I would loosely describe as dense, walkable, mixed used areas with storefront businesses and a significant amount of multi-family housing – but none that I’ve seen are actually urban to any great extent. Cincinnati has pockets like OTR as well as a number of neighborhood business districts. But this is not a city that looks like or functions like Chicago. Similarly, Detroit is largely what Jane Jacobs described as “miles upon miles of graybelts” – very cheap single family homes with occasional dreary, rundown commercial strips on streets that have been retrofitted to maximize auto throughput. I maintain Chicago is unique in its built form – and the scale at which that form is deployed – in the Midwest.

  17. Chris, not sure what you mean by Chicago’s interstates not going to major cities: 55 goes to St. Louis, 94 to Detroit, 80/90 to Toledo and Cleveland, 94W to Milwaukee and the Twin Cities. 90W to the Twin Cities. 80 is a major transcon route.

  18. Clearly Chicago is a major transport hub. But I’m not sure how much more value can be extracted from it. The only clearly dominant area is freight rail, where Chicago is the largest hub and national interchange point. Intermodal is very important, and can be a big source of new working class jobs that are needed. But rail is not likely to be a huge growth industry, and there’s huge congestion in Chicago anyway.

    Otherwise, for trucking there are better places to put bulk distribution hubs. Unless you send a lot of traffic to or through Chicago anyway, why base your business in a state with an unattractive business climate and where there is so much congestion? Chicago had a greater cost of delays to commercial vehicles than any metro in America last year.

    O’Hare is a very important hub and gateway, and a clear advantage (and indeed necessary component) of maintaining Chicago’s relevance as a global business center. But there are other huge hubs in America, and bigger international gateways. It doesn’t seem likely that Chicago is really going to significantly grow its number of non-stop international destinations.

    In short, while transport is big and important, it seems to be mostly a legacy industry. It’s like Detroit touting autos or something. I could be convinced otherwise thought.

  19. Neil says:

    A bit off topic, but kind of felt compelled to talk about this:

    “Cincinnati has pockets like OTR as well as a number of neighborhood business districts. But this is not a city that looks like or functions like Chicago. ”

    I would say that if Cincinnati got its act together in terms of transit and culture (being more open, forward thinking, pro urban) the list provided by another user above would looks something more like this:

    Northeast Midwest West

    #1 City New York Chicago Los Angeles

    #2 City Boston Cincinnati San Fran/Bay

    Because seriously like the Bay area and Boston Cincy punches way above its weight (its smaller though) has a charming old world feel (particularly if urban living would take off there and the neighborhoods would be cleaned up) and has a vibrant economy that should make it better known (again not as vibrant as the east and west examples, but way more than most people think it does).

    As far as Chicago goes, its still heads and shoulders above the rest of the midwest, but I feel that Cincy if it would stand up a bit more and stand out a bit more could at least be a solid second fiddle. I think Detroits economic issues go too deep and its level of urbanism (outside of what’s left of downtown) to shattered to really make it a player anymore unless drastic things happen.

  20. Mike says:

    Well, let’s discuss the Chicago metro-region or The state for that matter. Is Illinois a one horse state, the only horse being Chicago? If this is the case, doesn’t this lesson Chicago’s economic footprint within the global scene? As long as Illinois is a one horse show, then Chicago remains weaker.

    Although Chicago is congested, there’s plenty of room for growth throughout the metropolitan region. I think Jessie Jackson Jr. had a good idea by wanting to build a third major airport in Downstate Peotone. We have to diversify. If you look at a well diversified state such as Michigan (aside from Detroit of course), I think Illinois could stand to learn something from them. Mayor Bloomberg of NY is trying to get as many corp. franchise offices as possible to relocate to Albany, NY., to strenghthen the upstate region.

    Back to transportation growth, if local Universities partnered with the transportation industry of Chicago, amazing things could happen. Through means of technology, logistics, engineering, marine, energy, communication, satellite and so much more. I think transportation could be a dominate industry within Chicago. One that others can learn from. Many are not aware that metro-Detroit has more engineers than any other region in the world. Countries like China, Japan are relocating businesses to the Detroit suburbs, sending over their best and brightest to learn from the the America’s best and brightest. Metro-Detroit is by far still the dominate region for automotive technolgy and research. They far exceed the foreign companies in those fields.

    So why can’t this be done with transportation in Chicago? We need more engineers, researchers and technologist from our local Universities to partner with the Transportation industry. But it must also be regional.

  21. Chris Barnett says:

    Aaron, clearly Chicago is situated on major interstates that connect it with major cities.

    I was disputing the “more interstates” claim of another poster: Chicago has four “mainline” interstates just like Indy, St. Louis, and Dallas…and all three of those mid-continent cities are also major transshipment and distribution hubs over which Chicago does not hold significant advantage.

  22. GT says:

    The transportation (re: freight rail, air cargo, marine) industry is in many ways “the tail that wags the dog” in that the business decisions made are largely based on self-interest and unresponsive to exogenous trends. Hence why CHI maintains its status as America’s freight rail hub despite congestion (which has been around for decades), decline in Great Lakes cargo traffic, and geographic advantages of other regions.

    Re: legacy industry, the City is actively investing in expanding its capacity. Keep an eye on this development:

    http://www.legalrecord.net/state-news/6455-chicago-to-construct-cargo-center-at-ohare-international-airport.html

    Re: international gateway, ORD is the 4th largest international gateway in the US, surprising as it may be. One more (not spam I swear):

    http://www.suntimes.com/news/escalona/13308984-452/emanuels-immigrant-vision-good-for-all.html

  23. Anonymous says:

    “Chicago is a legitimate center of high culture, with a world class symphony and opera company, a thriving theater scene, a well-known music scene, excellence in the culinary arts, etc.”

    It also has world class art museums (Art Institute, Museum of Contemporary Art), and two major Dance companies – Joffrey Ballet and Hubbard Street Dance as well as many others. What other city has an entire museum campus including an aquarium, planetarium, history museum and museum of science and industry?

  24. Chris Barnett says:

    Other than Washington, DC?

    Philadelphia has its Art Museum, Rodin Museum, (new) Barnes, and the Franklin Institute (science, industry, and history) on the Parkway, and the Academy of Fine Arts is close by.

    Even Indianapolis has its Zoo, arboretum/botanical gardens, NCAA Museum/Hall of Champions, State Museum, and Eiteljorg Museum all together, and its historical society and state library are only a couple blocks away on the downtown Canal. A bit middlebrow maybe, but a downtown museum campus nonetheless.

    Every big city has arts and culture, and it would be hard to claim that Chicago is head and shoulders above smaller cities in some aspects…Philadelphia especially.

  25. Alon Levy says:

    It’s not necessarily a good thing to put all the museums in one place. The cultural center in Tel Aviv – consisting of the Cameri Theater, the art museum, and the library – is about the most repulsive, street-deadening urban renewal you can imagine.

    So in that light there’s nothing wrong with how New York does things, which is to put the history museum only vaguely near the science museum and the planetarium and have multiple gazillion art museums in different neighborhoods.

  26. Peter says:

    Museum of Science and Industry is not near the Shedd, Adler or Field Museums.

  27. Chris Barnett says:

    Like Chicago, DC and Philly did their civic-core urban renewals in the City Beautiful era. None of them is ugly.

    They are among the best open urban public spaces in the US. (They are not intended to be dynamic multi-use neighborhoods.) The National Mall performs its intended functions especially well: grand vistas, grand ceremonies and space for bazillions of tourists to feel uncrowded. A public-space expression of American Exceptionalism.

    In fairness, Chicago’s “White City” (Columbian Expo, 1892) did spark the City Beautiful movement, and it inspired those other grand spaces surrounded by collonaded buildings.

  28. Mike says:

    I agree with Alon-

    It actually disappoints me that almost EVERY major museum is located downtown or on the Lake Front. There are hundreds of other great locations throughout the city that could use tourist dollars and also show visitors another side of Chicago. Other than the usual.

  29. the urban politician says:

    Mike,

    Actually, the location of the Field Museum, Shedd Aquarium, and Adler are the most disappointing to me. They are basically disconnected from the rest of the cityscape.

    It would be nice to have those embedded in the urban fabric a bit more. On the flip side, however, they have great vistas of Lake Michigan and the city. Pros and cons, I guess

  30. BelmontRes says:

    The #2 city in the Northeast is DC. No question about it.

    DC has a larger metropolitan economy than even Chicago or the Bay Area. It has the third largest economy in the U.S. (by CSA).

  31. BelmontRes says:

    I’m also mystified why folks think that the 70’s were some horrible time in Chicago, and 2012 is supposedly some great time.

    In the 70’s Chicago had the nation’s #2 economy (by size, of course), and #3 (LA) was a long ways off. Now Chicago has the nation’s #6 economy, and is long-term threatened by Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth.

    Chicago may be a “better” city than in the 70’s, but on a relative level, it has fallen quite a bit compared to other major U.S. cities, at least economically.

  32. Alon Levy says:

    Going by total personal income, Chicago is fourth, just behind Washington.

    Also, rankings don’t matter as much as absolute state. Britain today is in a worse relative position than it was in the 1950s, when Japan was still in the middle of its growth spurt, the Hindu rate of growth was an epithet, and China was busy starving itself. This does not mean the 1950s were a better time for Britain than the 2000s.

  33. Peter says:

    Nuance is difficult for a lot of people Alon.

  34. BelmontRes says:

    Alon, I don’t disagree that Chicago may be “better” off relative to that of the 70’s, but your standard for “better” is quite a weak one. I mean, what’s the point? Metro Detroit is “better” than in the 70’s too, using your standard. Everything from medical care to housing standards has improved.

    Using that logic, 99% of the earth is better off than “before” (however you define “before”).

    I thought the point under discussion was whether or not Chicago had made strides since the 70’s. Not only generalized strides that come in tandem with social and economic progress in human society, but relative strides compared to other metros.

    If Chicago was the 2nd largest U.S. economy in 1975, and presently stands as the 6th largest economy, is that not relevant? What if it falls behind Houston and Dallas? Should we not care?

    Can Chicago call itself world-class and on-the-rise if it continuously falls by almost every relative measurable standard?

  35. Lynn says:

    I’m going to have to disagree with the Mayor’s quote, that you re-quoted, “We are the capital of the midwest, but we also gather people from all over the country. We are a city of immigrants, from America and the rest of the world.”

    I moved here in February and finally understood what people meant when they said, ‘it’s a midwestern city.’ The majority of people I have met are from the surrounding states, not a lot of coastal people come and stay. They’re attracted by a job, or more likely one of those high caliber education institutions but most of the ones I have met have no intention of making Chicago home. Having spent a decent amount of time on both coasts, I always valued that while you’ll get a lot of people from the surrounding states, you’ll see a fair amount of people from all over the country.

    When people ask how I like Chicago, I tell them a lot of the things you listed – it has a great arts and theater scene, a very strong sports scene, two major airports, two major universities, it has the makings of a great city but it’s the people that make a place. Midwestern charm can buy good will but not necessarily a smart city that can compete in the global arena and be seen as leading city (though Rahm is trying his hardest) that provides thoughtful output in x industry or x academic specialization.

  36. Lynn says:

    While I appreciate having two airport options, the dominance of United at ORD detracts from the cities competitiveness. BA doesn’t do direct from Chicago to London, I think that says a lot about how connected Chicago is to the heavy hitters.

  37. Lynn, I appreciate the comments on Chicago being a Midwestern city, but the air thing is off base. AA also has a hub at O’Hare, and there are many non-stop flights to London, including at least two operated by BA. BA had a nice lounge in T5 too last I flew them.

  38. Lynn says:

    Aaron, sorry I forgot to mention, no directs by BA in the winter. You’re right def directs during most of the year, but you’d think that business and tourism don’t stop in the winter.

  39. BA code shares with American. (They might have even got anti-trust clearance for full revenue sharing, but I can’t remember). There’s less need for your own metal when you can integrate with partner airlines. Sometimes the foreign partner does it (like IB serving Madrid) and sometimes the American partner does.

  40. BelmontRes says:

    Lynn, you are 100% correct; Chicago is a great city, but it isn’t truly a global city. It’s Midwest to the core. The city’s young, educated types are almost all from the suburbs and a few surrounding states, and most immigrants are from one part of Mexico.

    The city is somewhat diverse, but nowhere near on the level of the coastal cities, and this is a competitive disadvantage.

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