Chicago - The Economist's 2006 survey
Many thanks to New York Addick and Simon Collis for pointing me in the direction of last week's The Economist
. They ran a special report on the city of Chicago and very interesting it was too."A visitors first impression of Chicago is likely be correct: this is a city buzzing with life, humming with prosperity, sparkling with new buildings, new sculptures, new parks and generally exuding vitality,"
it started it's 18-page survey by saying.
The last time The Economist
published a report on the city was in 1980 when industrial decline, political bickering and racial antagonisms shadowed the capital of the Midwest.
The report celebrates Chicago's revival, refusing to lie down after a long period of deindustrialisation, helped by the infamous windy city political machine, new investment in the area by big businesses and a population spurt. As someone once said to me "if it wasn't for the harsh winters then half of the country would want to live here."
The survey runs articles on how what was once a swamp became the countries 2nd city, helped by it's proximity to the lake and the reversing of the river flow
in the mid 1800's and how a town of just 20,000 souls in 1847 became the centre of the countries entire rail network just 10-years later.
On how important O'Hare
is to the city and it's propinquity to the agricultural heartland and large coal and iron deposits. And after the great fire of 1871, how architects such as Daniel Burnham
, Louis Sullivan
and Dankmar Adler
helped begin, which others like Frank Lloyd-Wright
and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe
continued to create a place that is "architecturally the most most interesting city in America."
The City of Big Shoulders has plenty more culture to shout about. The Symphony Orchestra
, The Lyric Opera
, The Joffrey Ballet
, it's Universities, of which one is the University of Chicago
, whose 78 Nobel prize winners is only second to Cambridge in ranking. It's parks, lakeshore, art galleries, museums, the blues clubs, its sports teams and its absolutely huge convention centre
Plus a tourist attraction, Navy Pier
, that attracts twice as many visitors as the Grand Canyon, which to me tells us more about Americans than anything else!The Economist
says that some experts now declare Chicago as a "global city."
Home to such multinational companies such as Motorola
plus the Chicago Board of Trade
and the Chicago Merchantile Exchange
, where $463 trillion of financial derivatives were traded in 2004.
The article gives interesting insight to the connection between big businesses, local government and how their joint philanthropy is intertwined. All driven of course by the "dictatorship"
of Mayor Richard M Daley
, who has spent 17-years in office.
Daley is a phenomenon according to the article. A white mayor running a city that is two-fifths black and a quarter Latino. A democrat that works with mostly Republican businesses. The "boss of a machine."
Chicago's recovery is also measured in population growth - 4% since 1990. Most of the growth has been in the ever expanding suburbs, and Latino's accounted for 96% of the growth of the six counties round Chicago.
Chicago has more hispanics than any other US city but Los Angeles but Chicago has always been home to immigrants. Germans, Russians, Poles, Italians, Irish, blacks fleeing the south, other midwesterners and of course a bloke from south-east London.The Economist
ends with a cautionary note though. It says that in terms of capturing the imagination Chicago is only rivalled by New York and Los Angeles. It's growth is in the suburbs and not in the city as people seek space, safety and schools.
The city crime rate is still high (450 murders in the city in 2005!). The poor find it impossible to afford housing and manufacturing used to provide a good living for people without academic qualifications, and it still does if you can get a job. But as the article states: "It is hard to send your child to college if you work at Wal-Mart."
Mayor Daley is doing his best to tackle the problems but his era is drawing to a close with no obvious successor in sight and recently scandal has once again dogged the infamous windy city politics.
However Chicago has moved from industrial wasteland to a city of marvellous culture, spaces and architecture. And the article finishes up saying that Chicago's "broad smile is even more attractive than its erstwhile broad shoulders."Many words and all quotes directly taken from The Economist's March 18th, 2006 Survey of Chicago entitled 'A success story.'Parts of the survey can be read here, but the whole piece has to be purchased.