Sunday, May 15, 2011

Chicago as a "Consumer City" or No More "Beirut by the Lake"

I was born in Chicago and spent some time in graduate school there.  I spent a fair bit of time in the early 1990s watching Michael Jordan dunk and Frank Thomas hit homers.   The people of Chicago are in deep thought about their mayorial transition from a Daley to a Dancer.   We are supposed to swoon at the success of the Emanuel brothers but lets not forget the Daleys.    The Mayor's understated brother is playing a key role in the Obama Administration.

Downtown Chicago's success since the mid-1980s is an important trend.   The people of Detroit can wonder why they haven't enjoyed similar success.  These two cities have roughly similar weather conditions.  Chicago made a bet on a more diversified employment base and a larger bet on financial industries.  Still,  I believe that Chicago's perception of being a high quality of life city fed on itself.  

As crime has fallen in major cities, richer people have been more comfortable living downtown.  Chicago's embrace of being a "Green City" has helped it.    As rich people live downtown, the "local amenities" improve and a snowball process feeds on itself.   New York City has enjoyed a dynamic like this since the early 1980s and so has Boston and Chicago.  These cold weather cities were run down and looking nasty and like Rocky they have gotten off the canvas and reinvented themselves.

What causal credit do their mayors deserve?  Great man theories of city dynamics are hard to test but Chicago appears to have enjoyed a long period of good karma.

The Chicago power couple of  President Obama and the First Lady represent a leading example of the rise of the Black elite educated upper class.  Chicago has many more examples of the Obamas.  Such success highlights that traditional racial divisions in big cities do not have to persist. The perception that the American Dream lives on and is available to all creates good will, civic engagement and more early life investments by young people and their parents as they become confident that free market success is achievable.    


Richard said...

For every Obama power couple there several hundred thousand folks who idolize murderers, street punks and rap "stars" with their dress and swagger.

Gabe said...

Greetings from Beirut. Having grown up in the Midwest visited Chicago at several times I would like to point out to the author that we are in 2011 and not in 1987. I only would like to say that The City of Chicago wishes it could be 10% of what Beirut is these days in every definition of what a dynamic and vibrant city is...