|Vacant homes in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood. Source: yochicago.com|
But there are negatives to Chicago as well. Its economy doesn’t seem to propel the city the same way that New York’s or San Francisco’s or Boston’s does. There is a rapidly growing awareness of the city’s fiscal problems. And of course, there’s the crushing inequality — crime, income and education in particular — that the city is developing a reputation for.
Richard Longworth wrote about this a couple days ago on his blog, where he also brought up another city negative — its notoriously thin skin — when discussing a couple recent events:
“Jon Stewart of The Daily Show ripped the city’s voters for re-electing its abrasive mayor, Rahm Emanuel. Then Spike Lee announced he’s going to make a new movie on urban crime entitled “Chiraq.”
Well, maybe we’re not the flyover city after all. With entertainment titans on the two coasts disemboweling us in the same week, it’s nice to be noticed.
But most Chicagoans would just as soon forego the honor.
On the one hand, it’s not really fair. Stewart, who doesn’t live here, seems cross at the 56 percent of Chicago voters who exercised their democratic right to decide that Emanuel, for all his pugnacity, will be a better mayor than Jesus “Chuy” Garcia. And Chicago looks like Iraq only to someone who’s never been to Iraq.
But this is a Chicagoan’s thin-skinned reaction. The fact is that Chicago, for all its global status, has enormous problems. Its debt is the worst of any mayor city and its school system is tottering financially.
Most, there’s that chasm between the global Chicago – the glistening city tied into the global economy – and the wastelands of poverty, crime, bad schools and forlorn hopes where the economy, global or otherwise, barely exists. Many of these neighborhoods are solidly black, and it’s where Spike Lee proposes to film.
Chicagoans don’t need the movies to tell them that they’ve got troubles. But it stings when outsiders hold the city – which, let’s face it, is no Detroit – as a civic disaster.”
I’ll quickly offer my opinion here. For all Rahm Emanuel’s faults, he is probably the man best prepared to lead Chicago around — or into — its upcoming fiscal cliff. For all Jesus “Chuy”Garcia’s positives, a stronger candidate would’ve won. I don’t like the “Chiraq” name one bit, but until Chicago’s dramatic violent crime inequality ceases, the unfortunate name still applies. I imagine New Yorkers were outraged when Escape from New York was made, and Angelenos hated Boyz n the Hood, but both cities overcame the negative charicatures.
I think many Chicagoans honestly don’t know how the city obtained the bipolar reputation it enjoys. We seem to be asking ourselves, “why aren’t we as universally admired as other American global cities?”
Let me offer an analogy that explains why.
Imagine a group of guys who hang out together. In fact, they grew up together, friends since childhood. They shared joys and sorrows as kids and young adults, and enjoyed running in the same circles. If you thought of any one of them, you thought of them all.
Then, middle age approaches. Some of the guys start to have health problems. Some have very real scares — a heart attack, a stroke, a very real near-death experience. They recover from the scare, and, upon the advice of the doctor, make dramatic lifestyle changes. They now eat better and exercise regularly. They are now elevated to a select group of people who do the same, and begin to interact almost exclusively with them.
But there’s this one guy who suffers a similar scare but doesn’t heed the same advice. He wants to hang out with his old friends and their new buddies. Instead of changing his diet, he eats the same way. He elects to dress the same as his friends, without earning the physique that they now have. He even tries to work out with them, much to the amusement of the others; he struggles to keep up.
That guy, they say, tries so hard, but he simply hasn’t laid the same foundation.
Having grown up in Detroit and spending my adult life in Chicago, I used to agree with the assertion that Chicago is no Detroit. But in a world where Detroit has likely hit bottom and is now rebounding, and Chicago continues to be plagued with problems that signal its descent, maybe the two are becoming more alike.