Tales of Two Cities

Richard Longworth, on his blog The Midwesterner, brought up an interesting paradox regarding Chicago.  He notes how within the same week Chicago was noted for its fast-growth mega-Loop area, attracting global economy workers, yet it was also mentioned by Forbes Magazine as the fourth most miserable city in the nation.  When he poses the question, “is Chicago global or miserable?”, he rightly answers, “both”.  This I definitely agree with:
“Global Chicago is home to perhaps one-third of Chicago’s residents, or about a million people. This doesn’t have much to do with the famous split between the “1 per cent” – the financial titans and CEOs – and the rest of us. Rather, this one-third embraces the corporate types, plus the big universities, plus people with decent jobs in globally-connected companies, plus the high-end chefs and boutique owners, plus entrepreneurs and lawyers and doctors and other professionals with the education and skills to swim in the global sea. No small number.
The rest of Chicago is home to some two-thirds of the city, or about 2 million people. Some of these the residents of inner city ghettoes, largely African-American, who were stranded when the city’s mills and factories collapsed and have been stuck in generational poverty ever since: these are the people whose grandchildren are being gunned down in the epidemic of murders that have turned  parts of Chicago into shooting galleries. Without question, this is extreme misery.”
I’d also argue there is a similar split throughout the entire region, with the North Shore, northwest and western suburbs being part of Global Metro Chicago, the southwest suburbs being somewhat within that group, and the south suburbs being largely out of it.  Richard Florida at the Atlantic Cities is doing a fascinating series looking at the economics of class by metros, looking at three classes – creative, service and working class – and his finding for Chicago bears this out.
I have two thoughts on this.  First, the global economy is strong enough to produce wealth and economic growth for a significant number of residents where it is most successful (New York, DC and the Bay Area come to mind), but is not a strong enough engine to generate wholesale change in other places, particularly those shrinking cities that have industrial legacies – Chicago included.  The resulting impact is a bifurcated city or region that generates the kind of paradox Longworth describes.
(Honestly, while I concur with Longworth’s description of Chicago, I wonder how that breakdown would happen in other cities.  Could Global New York represent 4 million of the city’s 8 million residents?  Or half of the region’s 16 million residents?  Would there be a similar breakdown in DC and the Bay Area?  What’s the breakdown in less prosperous regions?  Just curious.)
The second thought is that much of the area of Chicago and other cities that are beyond the influence of the global economy are the way they are because specific policies to extract wealth and disinvest in those communities – policies like blockbusting, redlining, urban renewal, and the lack of investment in services such as parks, schools, roads and the like – took root.  If we want to expand the benefits of the global economy to these areas, we have to reverse the impact of these past policies, while also building the infrastructure for global economy growth.
I know, easier said than done.

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