Monday, November 19th, 2012

Goodbye, Chicago

This is the last post in my State of Chicago series.

Odd as it may seem for someone known as The Urbanophile, I actually grew up in the countryside. I spent most of my childhood on a country road about four miles outside the town of Laconia, Indiana, population 50. I always used to get confused when John Cougar sang about living in a small town, because I knew he was from Seymour, and with over 15,000 people that seemed a big town in my book.

Today I still laugh at these urbanites who brag about their green ways like having “rain barrels” to catch reclaimed rainwater from the roof for watering their yard. For many years that’s what I drank growing up, as we didn’t have city water supplies and had to rely on our cistern.

After graduating high school I went to Indiana University. Then armed with my bachelors it was on to Chicago, the result of an accident: that’s where my job offer came from. I had no strong feelings on where to live other than that I didn’t want to go back to my home town. In Chicago I ended up, like many young professionals, in the Lincoln Park neighborhood on the North Side. Though this too was pretty much an accident. I had relatives who lived there and invited me to stay with them when looking for an apartment.

For many people from small town or suburban environments, going to college is a time of tremendous personal transformation and growth. I didn’t have that experience. For me, the great transformation came from moving to Chicago. Exiting the L in the Loop on my first day going to work, wearing a suit, surrounded by tall buildings and crowds of people, I felt like I was on the set of a movie. It was an almost surreal experience.

Though urban life was new to me, I fell in love with it. And I was transformed by the experience. I knew nothing about culture, food, fashion, architecture, actually relating to people with different backgrounds from me, traveling, or how to get around in anything other than a car. Beyond merely learning how to go to work every day, living in Chicago provided a non-stop stream of stimulating and educational experiences that helped me grow as a person.

But it wasn’t just me who was being transformed. The urban renaissance of Chicago was underway by the time I arrived in 1992, but it was very early in the process. I recall recruiters for the company I worked for bragging about how Chicago was now an outpost of that uber-hip coffee chain Starbucks. The gentrified areas were still largely confined to a narrow strip along the north Lakefront. Many of the places that later became yuppie playgrounds were then ethnic enclaves or undeveloped. Some were still close to slums. On the outer reaches of Lincoln Park itself, streetwalkers openly plied their trade along North Ave.

The 90s were heady a heady decade for Chicago. The city, like select other major urban metros around the country, exploded with new growth and attracted many new migrants. Chicago experienced perhaps the largest urban condo building boom in America, transforming huge tracts of the city. The quality on offer improved radically. The population increased, and the city even added more jobs than Houston. It was a great time to be a Chicagoan, and I enjoyed every minute of it.

But come the 2000s, the condo boom continued but an economic and political malaise had clearly set in. Even new mayor Rahm Emanuel has labeled it a lost decade. As the decade ended, I had increasingly made up my mind to leave the city, now the place where I’d spend nearly as many years as my native Indiana. Early this year, I left Chicago behind.

What made me decide to leave? There are a few factors, some more personal than others.

The first is that I simply had done Chicago. The Chicago experience had been transformational when I got there, but after nearly 20 years it was getting stale. It was just more of the same. It was time for new challenges.

I was also motivated by the bleak economy. I owned a condo, an anchor that left me at great risk of getting marooned in the city, a phenomenon recently written about by Crain’s Chicago Business. I was willing to sell near the bottom of the market to avoid the risk of getting stranded. When I sold, there was no clear sense of an imminent major turnaround. There are huge unfunded liabilities at all levels of government in the region and state. The city’s economy seems to have lost a clear raison d’etre. No longer the “city of big shoulders”, it is losing out to urban areas with stronger economic identities — New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington and, even emerging cities like Houston. So in the end I decided it was worth paying a “breakup penalty” to get out. Interestingly, no one, not even my alderman, suggested I was wrong in this. Contrary to what some have suggested, my views towards Chicago have not been poisoned by my condo sale.

Lastly, I no longer saw Chicago as a good platform for my personal ambitions. The city likes to see itself as occupying a “sweet spot” as a legitimate urban oriented big city with a lower price tag and higher quality of life. Yet for me Chicago was a “sour spot” that offered neither the opportunities of say a New York, Washington, or San Francisco, but still came with a high price tag. I would rather live in a small city that’s dirt cheap where I can have more impact, or in a place like New York where the cost of living might be greater, but the opportunities are matchless.

That is ultimately where the city will stand or fall. I’m but one example, but it’s a decision repeated with various results day after day: is this where I’ll plant my flag, seek my fortune and dreams, raise my family, or build my business? Chicago has to be seen as a success platform for both people and businesses. The demographic and economic results of the 2000s suggest it is losing that battle for the moment, though given the 90s results, it is certainly possible to think that might change again tomorrow.

As for me, there are a couple of identities I carry with me. One is that I’m a Hoosier and always will be, despite a sometimes love-hate relationship with the state. But I’m also unequivocally a Chicagoan – a label I proudly claim even though I no longer live there. Chicago will always hold a special place in my heart and I’ll treasure my experiences there. It’s a city in which I could definitely seem myself happily living in again some day. If I sometimes seem harsh on it, it is only out of a passionate desire to see it succeed and be the best it can be.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this series. Thanks for your readership.

A version of this post originally appeared on April 25, 2012 at New Geography.

46 Comments
Topics: Urban Culture
Cities: Chicago

46 Responses to “Goodbye, Chicago”

  1. James says:

    You wrote: “Yet for me Chicago was a “sour spot” that offered neither the opportunities of say a New York, Washington, or San Francisco, but still came with a high price tag. I would rather live in a small city that’s dirt cheap where I can have more impact, or in a place like New York where the cost of living might be greater, but the opportunities are matchless.”

    To put some numbers on that Chicago’s cost of living is far lower than the costal enclaves in New York or San Francisco, but the average wages are also far lower. Chicago’s median household income is below the national average or even the Illinois average. That is why I called it the Berlin of America.

    Chicago’s future is murky. Some recent Silicon Prairie moves show promise but by the same token places like Englewood are falling apart. There are construction cranes all over downtown but some gritty neighborhoods are getting the bulldozer.

  2. So why did you pick Providence? You were thinking about NYC. I don’t think you ever explained why you went to RI instead.

  3. Skeptic says:

    Ah, the irony of the people who have no elderly parents or children in Chicago to take care of scorning “yuppie playgrounds.”

    Look in the mirror if you want to see the problem – it’s those who think the City is there to serve their professional aspirations but who don’t see how they have any responsibilities or duty to improve it.

  4. Racaille says:

    Mr. Renn says:

    “I was also motivated by the bleak economy. ”

    Chicago leads the nation in job creation. 43,000 in total.

    “I owned a condo, an anchor that left me at great risk of getting marooned in the city, a phenomenon recently written about by Crain’s Chicago Business.”

    Please consider:

    http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2012-09-13/classified/ct-home-0914-new-apartments-20120913_1_rental-units-apartment-units-rental-development

    http://www.businessinsider.com/condo-inventories-in-chicago-are-more-evidence-of-a-ripping-housing-recovery-2012-11

    New York and San Francisco are played out…read expensive, unreasonable salary demands, and terrible employee retention. Not to mention earthquakes and hurricanes.

    People that think Houston is a choice should move there as any sane person will run away screaming.

    Based on the sheer amount of companies moving to the Loop/downtown, I would say your decision to leave was a bit premature.

    Chicago will continue to be the best city on the continent as nothing even comes close.

  5. Josh S says:

    @Aaron: Can you link to the Crain’s Article (or at least give a title)? I’d like to read it…

  6. the urban politician says:

    Aaron,

    Look at the timing.

    You left during the depth of a horrible recession & a divorce.

    That’s all this is.

    Say what you will, but I think this is all personal and emotional. There is absolutely zilch you will find in any other city, with the sole exception of New York, that will fulfill your “personal ambitions”, if you could not achieve that in Chicago. Besides, any city will likely grow a bit stale on you in 20 years. Even after 3 years in New York, I got a bit tired of going to all of the same places, despite my adoration for the city.

    And contrary to anything you have ever posted about Chicago, I find more opportunity in Chicago than I ever could in way over-hyped San Francisco or appropriately-hyped New York. I buy, renovate, and rent out real estate. I already own 4 properties that I bought for a good deal, and in the midst of a rental boom and a continued central city resurgence, am among many who is making solid profits. Try getting a cheap 3 unit building in San Francisco.

    There are plenty of great stories of brewing success in Chicago, and while that new chapter is being written you will almost certainly become further detached and dismissive as you try to rationalize your decision to move to the “greener pastures” of the northeast.

    Best of luck in Rhode Island, I guess….

  7. Racaille says:

    @ Urban Politician….wow, powerful stuff and I agree.

    I did find it unusual that someone such as Mr. Renn, who demands so much from a city, would find Rhode Island to his liking.

    Bonne Chance…indeed!

    p.s. “I find more opportunity in Chicago than I ever could in way over-hyped San Francisco”

    This is so exquisitely correct.

  8. Tory says:

    “People that think Houston is a choice should move there as any sane person will run away screaming.”

    Houston: 6 million proud insane people and welcoming a million+ more insane people every decade…

  9. Robert Munson says:

    Gentlemen and Gentlefolk–

    In scrolling through the above comments, I’m not sure we are giving Aaron a fair shake.

    For me, his Chicago Series has shaken up the Conventional Thinking about what is wrong and right with Chicago. And the keener objectivity bred by his moving from Chicago is a service to us all. For Chicago’s self-image as America’s “Second City” is tenuous at best and, more realistically, has allowed rivals to come back (as in LA) or new rivals to enter the debate (DC.)

    Personally, I’d like to see this discussion evolve to a critique of the proposals that “The Urbanophile” has outlined in his series. I particularly would like to read comments critiquing those proposals to reinvigorate Chicago’s strengths: how its transportation systems can better support its economic growth.

  10. Racaille says:

    @ Tory “Houston: 6 million proud insane people and welcoming a million+ more insane people every decade…”

    Quantity does not equal quality.

  11. John V. says:

    Aaron, I’m glad you republished this, b/cs I didn’t get the chance to comment first time around.

    One of the things I’ve loved about your blog is the way you’ve combined the personal with the objective – your subjective impressions and experiences, a fertile source of hypotheses, and then truthing them out with statistics, trends analysis, economics, etc. This has not only been very stimulating, it’s generated some great ideas. It’s created an environment where people can comment in a unique way. Reading your blog has been like having a great ongoing conversation with someone at a dinner party. In the process, your readers have gotten to know you, like you and respect you. So first and foremost, thanks, thanks, thanks for this amazing blog and all the work you put into it – and all of yourself that you’ve been willing to share.

    Your move to Providence? Hell, who knows why you’re doing it. Sounds like you’re not sure yourself, and, like anyone in your boots, you’re trying on various reasons, from the personal to the objective. Point is, when you gotta go, you gotta go. I hope Providence does it for you. If not, you’ll move on. The important thing is that you’re taking advantage of your mobility to explore. This is very American, very wise.

    Selfishly, I’m sorry that you’ve left Chicago. Not only does it pretty much rule out our infrequent beers together, it means we here in Chicago will be deprived of your observations based on what you observe walking down the street.

    But now we’ll have the benefit of your observations about Providence and the Northeast.

    Just keep living, observing and writing about it as honestly and thoughtfully as you have been. And hopefully you’ll end up wherever you’re supposed to be. And who knows, maybe you’ll discover the truth of one of Chicago’s hometown songs: “Each time I leave, Chicago keeps tuggin my sleeve. Each time I roam, Chicago keeps calling me home.”

    Best of luck, amigo.

  12. Tory says:

    “@ Tory “Houston: 6 million proud insane people and welcoming a million+ more insane people every decade…”

    Quantity does not equal quality.”

    Yes, clearly millions of insane people come to Houston looking for a lower quality of life for them and their families. On the other hand, I’m sure the Census shows millions of sane people moving to Chicago for that cost-of-living/quality-of-life equation, right?…

  13. Tory says:

    Although I don’t have deep ties to Chicago (plenty of visits, though), I’m going to strongly second John V.’s comment. It’s been a great series – very insightful. Lessons for all cities in there.

  14. Racaille says:

    “On the other hand, I’m sure the Census shows millions of sane people moving to Chicago for that cost-of-living/quality-of-life equation, right?…”

    http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2012-09-28/news/ct-talk-living-downtown-chicago-0928-20120928_1_downtown-homes-residential-boom-chicago-s-city-hall

    Houston is a miserable city. Let me correct that, Houston isn’t a city, it’s a massive suburb.

    Texas = numero uno in minimum wage jobs!

  15. John V, thanks so much for the kind words.

    I should note that I moved to Providence for purely personal reasons. I’m actually not sure how long I’ll be here. For now it offers an Indianapolis-like value proposition: lower cost with good proximity to mega-cities.

  16. costanza says:

    Was there really a point to this post? All I got was someone got bored and moved.

  17. Racaille says:

    “I was also motivated by the bleak economy. I owned a condo, an anchor that left me at great risk of getting marooned in the city, a phenomenon recently written about by Crain’s Chicago Business.”

    I am still trying to find this article. Can you help us out?

  18. the urban politician says:

    “Was there really a point to this post? All I got was someone got bored and moved.”

    My guess is that Aaron finally sold his condo (for lower price than what it was purchased with, hence some bitterness?), and that’s why this post is being written. After all, why say “goodbye” to a city that you already left quite a long time ago?

  19. costanza says:

    “My guess is that Aaron finally sold his condo (for lower price than what it was purchased with, hence some bitterness?), and that’s why this post is being written. After all, why say “goodbye” to a city that you already left quite a long time ago?”

    You’re probably correct.

  20. Tory says:

    Houston City population growth, 2000-2010, +145,820
    Chicago City population growth, 2000-1010, -200,418

    Good luck with that momentum.

    As far as job mix…

    http://www.forbes.com/sites/joelkotkin/2012/07/09/the-cities-where-a-paycheck-stretches-the-farthest/

    The Cities Where A Paycheck Stretches The Furthest

    “In first place is Houston, where the average annual wage in 2011 was $59,838, eighth highest in the nation. What puts Houston at the top of the list is the region’s relatively low cost of living, which includes such things as consumer prices and services, utilities and transportation costs and, most importantly, housing prices: The ratio of the median home price to median annual household income in Houston is only 2.9, remarkably low for such a dynamic urban region; in San Francisco a house goes for 6.7 times the median local household income. Adjusted for cost of living, the average Houston wage of $59,838 is worth $66,933, tops in the nation.”

  21. Mike says:

    I recall that when I left Boston after living there for seven years to move to Chicago I had many personal and political reasons for doing so. With the hindsight of three years here in Chicago I realized that a lot of my justifications for moving from Boston were really just rationalizations. I see a lot of my own experience in Aaron’s justifications for leaving.

    For example, the fact that Chicago has no calling card industry or millions in unfunded liabilities really aren’t justifications for doing anything unless of course you got laid over as another one of Chicago’s legacy industries declined or you rely on those liabilities for your retirement. I was never a real estate developer in Boston but the fact that you can never get anything of quality built there annoyed me and I used it as a justification for leaving.

    Ultimately the reasons were far more personal. Had I been more successful in finding a career path or had a larger network of friends there is no doubt I would have stayed in Boston. But as my social life deteriorated and my career prospects dwindled I need to move on. The city began looking stale and I needed to justify a change by whatever reasons I could come up with.

    Boston after all is a wonderful city with many fine qualities and it is a fantastic place to live. It has problems like anywhere else and sometimes those problems can get into the consciousness of its residents. But I think it takes a lot more than a few negative trends that have no real affect on your day to day life to really want to move away.

    Good luck living and working in Providence. Having spent a lot of time in New England it is a fantastic place to live and explore.

  22. Jeff says:

    Thanks Tory.

    http://www.forbes.com/sites/joelkotkin/2012/05/01/the-best-cities-for-jobs-2/

    “Only New York City is home to more Fortune 500 headquarters.[9][10] The Port of Houston ranks first in the United States in international waterborne tonnage handled and second in total cargo tonnage handled.”
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Houston

    “Located in Houston, the Texas Medical Center is the largest medical center in the world with one of the highest densities of clinical facilities for patient care, basic science, and translational research.”
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Texas_Medical_Center

    Also a global energy capital.

    Say what you want, buddy.

  23. Racaille says:

    @tory

    “Houston City population growth, 2000-2010, +145,820
    Chicago City population growth, 2000-1010, -200,418

    You had better check out why Chicago lost population. Hint: google Chicago Housing Authority.

    “The Cities Where A Paycheck Stretches The Furthest”

    Cities like Houston are cheap, very cheap, and for a very good reason.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2012/11/20/why-atlanta-new-york-and-chicago-are-poised-to-drive-a-housing-recovery/

    Have a nice day!

  24. Racaille says:

    @Jeff.

    “Located in Houston, the Texas Medical Center is the largest medical center in the world”

    This makes sense since Texas is the buckle of the cardiac belt.

    http://www.chron.com/life/article/Houston-reclaims-title-of-America-s-Fattest-City-3344599.php

    Where there is cattle, one will find slaughterhouses.

  25. the urban politician says:

    Guys, this Houston vs Chicago nonsense is unbecoming of this blog. Take it to Citydata.com

    Racaille, Chicago’s population loss was not largely attributable to the CHA demolition. Chicago’s population loss was generally viewed to be due to 3 processes:

    1. Black flight
    2. Continued gentrification in the city’s core, leading to smaller but more wealthy households
    3. Less Hispanic immigration into the city, with immigrants instead moving straight into suburban communities

    Mike (post #21), your post says it all. Rarely does a city “grow stale” on you. Usually it’s the other way around (your life is what has gotten stale).

  26. Racaille says:

    @Urban

    “1. Black flight”

    http://columbiachronicle.com/2010-census-shows-lopsided-growth-decline/

    Houston’s population increase?

    Three reasons: Hurricane Katrina, displaced construction workers from Vegas, Phoenix, and California Central Valley, and immigrant birth rates.

  27. Tory says:

    So Racaille’s argument boils down to Houston is good for the “wrong” kind of people (although somehow that leads to highest cost-of-living adjusted average wages in the country), while Chicago is smart by just pushing those people out. Classy.

  28. Rod Stevens says:

    I enjoy reading your posts, Aaron, and am somewhat surprised at the personal nature of some of the comments above. It shows both the shallowness of their defense of Chicago.

    Every city has its strengths and weaknesses. When I left the Bay Area 30 years ago, LA was ascendant and SF feared that it had lost its business edge. This just shows that cities come and go, but there are crests of activity, which SF is going through now and which Chicago may have gone through 20 years ago. These are somewhat long cycles. Unless you have an unusually strong attachment to the place, and you highly valued staying on top of such a “crest”, I can see how you would not want to ride the wave down.

    It will be interesting to see how the mayor of Chicago does. Institutional turn-arounds take years, sometimes decades, to have a big effect. Rahm is just beginning his efforts. Bloomberg is just now beginning to get real results. New York has truly improved as a place to live under Bloomberg’s care.

    May you enjoy the move.

  29. I recently moved from Chicago to Austin, TX. I have also spent some time in Dallas. I have noticed that people in other parts of Texas do not like Houston. They say it’s too humid, too sprawling and they don’t like the fact that there are no zoning laws.

    If people in the Dallas area say Houston has too much sprawl I can’t imagine what Houston is like.

  30. Jeff says:

    @Urban, sorry for the de-railing. My last comments for Racaille:

    I hesitated to refer to this because it’s shocking even to many Houstonians, but it has some valid points on the development and increasing attraction of the city: http://www.forbes.com/sites/morganbrennan/2012/07/26/houston-tops-our-list-of-americas-coolest-cities-to-live/
    You may be right regarding PART of the population increase, and while it’s probably a load on infrastructure (especially traffic), anyone is gladly welcomed, and you are missing that many people are moving here for professional, white-collar/high-skill jobs as well. Once again, all welcome.

    Houston is a model city in regards to the future of American demographics, in regards to its diversity. The city includes a population with tremendous variety in international background. I can provide resources if you’d like.

    Houston’s medical center draws people from around the world, both in terms of researchers and patients, as the institutions here are on the forefront of many different areas; once again, can provide details.

    Houston is a top city for giving and volunteerism; this is also not synonymous with being a “miserable” city.

    I will agree that on first glance, if you were to visit Houston, it could seem miserable. But if you know the right places to go, it makes a big difference. Houston is known as a great place to live, and like any other city, it’s the people that make it great. While there aren’t necessarily many things to do from a tourist standpoint, there is plenty of entertainment, sports, and cultural/arts activities and programming.

    Once again, thanks Tory, and Urban, do not mean to ever do this again.

  31. Racaille says:

    @Jeff

    “I hesitated to refer to this because it’s shocking even to many Houstonians,”

    If it’s too good to be true, it’s probably a lie.

    Please consider:

    http://www.chron.com/news/falkenberg/article/Why-can-t-Houston-pay-janitors-a-living-wage-3755604.php

    “Houston is known as a great place to live,”

    You are clearly not a Texan.

  32. Tory says:

    @Jeff great points and links. Thanks. My original involvement was not to bash Chicago, but to defend Houston.

    @Everyday Freethought: Houston’s lack of zoning is actually one its great strengths, both for keeping cost of living low as well as preserving an ecclectic funkiness and diversity that zoning tends to stamp out with an enforced sameness (not to mention corruption).
    http://houstonstrategies.blogspot.com/2008/11/houstons-great-competitive-advantage.html

  33. Racaille says:

    @tory

    “Houston’s lack of zoning is actually one its great strengths”

    http://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2009/09/the-myth-of-no-zoning-in-houston.html

    It’s designed for maximum space usage and the lowest of densities…i.e. consume as much energy as possible.

  34. Racaille says:

    Thank you Mr. Renn.

    Did you live in the South Loop? I thought that you were in the Gold Coast.

    Also please consider:

    http://www.chicagojournal.com/news/06-20-2012/Lakeshore_East_getting_school

    But if you did live the South Loop, your jump was definitely premature as you could have rented your condo for quite a tidy profit by now.

    Anyway, thank you for the excellent blog. I really do like it. It’s very well written.

    Furthermore, I am so looking forward to a new multi-part series about this dynamic, über-cool, cultural hotspot know as Houston, Texas. It should be brilliant!

    Happy Thanksgiving!

  35. Racaille, as I’ve told Tory before, I worked in Houston for a while and did not like it at all. But just because I don’t personally care for it doesn’t mean that I don’t appreciate its virtues. We’ll see what I might write in the future.

  36. costanza says:

    http://columbiachronicle.com/2010-census-shows-lopsided-growth-decline/

    Taken from this article:

    “Englewood and West Englewood experienced some of the largest declines citywide—a combination of nearly 20,000 residents equalling a 21 percent loss of the area population.”

    Englewood and West Englewood are not known for being middle class AA areas of Chicago. In fact, they are highly impoverished areas. So, these two communities alone account for 10% of the decline. That’s a lot of poor people leaving.

  37. Racaille says:

    @Aaron

    “it doesn’t mean that I don’t appreciate its virtues”

    Well then, I look forward to a brief article on Houston’s virtues.

    I promise to keep an open mind.

  38. Tory says:

    @Racaille
    Houston’s virtues are articulated in the Kotkin report and policy appendix here.
    http://www.houston.org/economic-development/joel-kotkin/

    I am also familiar with Lewyn’s paper on Houston’s lack of zoning. He’s mainly upset that it doesn’t lead to New Urbanism. I’m not saying it’s a perfectly free environment, but it is *far* more free market than any city with zoning. And it’s more than just a lack of zoning – it’s very predictable “check-box” permitting: a developer knows exactly what he has to meet to get permits, no arbitrary boards or people (um, aldermen?) to bribe. We build essentially unlimited apartments and high-rises to meet demand. Where there is demand in un-deed-restricted neighborhoods, old single-family homes get replaced with clusters of affordable high-density townhomes (as opposed to McMansions forced by low-density zoning). Where there is demand for more retail, it easily finds a way to get built to meet that demand. For one example, you have not seen grocery store hyper-competition – on prices, quality, and amenities – until you’ve been to Houston. Restaurants are another example. Easily built wherever there is demand, there is intense competition, and Zagat has noted that Houstonians eat out more times per week at a lower average price than any other major city (more on the system dynamics behind Houston’s incredible restaurant scene: http://houstonstrategies.blogspot.com/2005/06/why-does-houston-have-such-great.html). It’s a great, messy, dynamic vibrancy. If you like your cities static, controlled, tidy, or cutesy – Houston’s not for you.

  39. Tory says:

    For some reason the 2nd link above doesn’t seem to be working. It will work with copy and paste.

    http://houstonstrategies.blogspot.com/2005/06/why-does-houston-have-such-great.html

  40. the urban politician says:

    Tory,

    In a sense you are telling the story of 19th century Chicago. 19th century Chicago was a very unregulated environment, to the point that it got scary. Toxic substances were dumped into rivers, railroads were built at a whim and ran through neighborhoods without appropriate grade separations (leading to many deaths), children worked in factories, etc. Even discussing the creation of zoning and building codes lead to a backlash, where people feared that it would discourage investment.

    But the reality is, I don’t think building codes or zoning has played much a role in discouraging development. Employment, schools, crime, and household incomes really are a much, much larger factor.

    Also, please don’t be offended by those of us who do not think much of this Houston/Chicago comparison. Houston has some great numbers and is clearly a booming city, and nobody here doubts it. But there are many here (I included) who understand that a city’s growth trajectory changes at different times during its “life cycle”, and we cannot forecast what the future has in store for Houston. There are many forces at work, and it may be a century before we really can declare whether Houston turned out to be a booming success, a mediocre success, or a burned out failure.

    Also, many of us give Houston a hard time because there is a certain attraction to older, dense, prewar cities such as Chicago, Boston, New York that carry with them a charm and cache that eludes these newer sunbelt boomtowns. It is hard to replicate the “feel” of a walk down Chicago’s State St or down portions of Broadway in NYC, which carry in their souls so much of America’s history within their bones.

    That is what you are up against when you are comparing Houston’s great successes to that of an older city. There REALLY, truly, is more to this than just comparing mere numbers. If this were a mere numbers game, I would imagine none of us would even be here reading this blog.

  41. Racaille says:

    @Tory

    “It’s a great, messy, dynamic vibrancy. If you like your cities static, controlled, tidy, or cutesy – Houston’s not for you.”

    If you can’t hail a taxi, it’s not a city.

    And your right, it’s a mess, much like Los Angeles.

    Please consider:

    http://www.amazon.com/Sunburnt-Cities-Recession-Depopulation-Planning/dp/0415592127

  42. Tory says:

    Yes, if your measuring stick for a city is the pedestrian experience and hailing taxis, then Houston is also not for you along with every other U.S. city other than a half-dozen or so (although we do have a few nice pedestrian districts – but of course nothing like the old guard cities).

  43. TenTen says:

    I have always wondered why Chicagoans trumpet the “hey, we’re cheaper than the coasts and a good deal” mantra. I don’t see it.

    Chicago, to me, is not a cost-effective location for urbanites. It’s very expensive for the Midwest, and as much of a hassle (or even more of a hassle) than cities like NYC and SF. High taxes, poor services, so-so transit, ridiculous parking enforcement, low salaries, and poor economy.

    Yeah, rents are cheaper than NYC/DC/Bos/SF/LA, but opportunities are much worse. I mean, if I want cheap, I can move to Indy or Detroit. Chicago offers the same mediocre location and economy, an inferior version of the coasts, and most of the hassle of the coastal cities. Not a good deal, IMO.

    I’m not even sure if it’s cheaper. If you’re in NYC, you aren’t owning a car. In Chicago, you probably are. And if you’re relying on transit in Chicago, you aren’t going to have a similar type of mobility. Stores are almost all auto-oriented, restaurants have valet, etc.

  44. James says:

    Looks like I forgot to include the link: http://chicagourbanist.blogspot.com/2012/05/cause-and-effect.html?m=1

    Chicago is much cheaper than the big coastal cities however the incomes in Chicago are lower as well. Lower than the Illinois average. So either wages are too low or housing costs are too high – take your pick.

    It is amusing seeing the banter from the Houston boosters. It reads like political talking points.

  45. Mike says:

    A. Renn,

    I appreciate your candid opinions. If you brought your voice & views back to Chicago and started a local publication, you would do well. We need more people in Chicago to unapologetically speak the truth. Just be sure to surround yourself with the right team, stick to the facts and continue to show statistics. Oh, and one more thing…don’t sell out to the Tribune or Sun-times once it you’ve made a bag full of money. That doesn’t look good.

    Chicago is badly in need of a solid independent newspaper that does the research and puts the truth in black and white without the fear of political backlash. Chicago has SO many problems and they need to be exposed. I understand why you left but like others have said, you can never run from your problems. Life is what you make of it. Even in good old corrupt Chicago.

    Redeem yourself!

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