The Economist on Chicago: “Pretty Robust”

The Economist ran a multi-piece series on Chicago earlier this month. (Alan Greenblatt  and Daniel Drezner have nice summaries.) "Chicago seems to have weathered its period of deindustrialisation and emerged looking pretty robust," writes John Grimond in his introduction. He sites two main reasons for Chicago's continued growth: Mexican immigration and Mayor Daley. (reg req.) He says Latinos already comprise the largest minority in the region:

Though Latinos are individually poorer than other Chicagoans, their collective household income of $20 billion a year makes up nearly 10% of the six-county area's total. The sales-tax revenues generated in the shops of Little Village's 26th Street are, it is said, greater than those of any other retail corridor in Chicago but Magnificent Mile. Latinos are also a driving force in the region's property market.

Since 1990, the growth in the number of Latino workers has just about matched the growth in jobs in the region. And the numerical match has paralleled a geographical one: many Latinos go straight to the jobs, which are mostly in the suburbs, bypassing the inner city altogether. Thus one person in five in the six-county area is now a Latino…

Grimond credits Daley with delivering "emollience, stability and managerial efficiency" and for being "adept at building a coalition that includes members from every group. Like his father, Mr Daley knows the value of patronage and precinct organisations."

Flower beds now run alongside about 70 miles of streets…City Hall now has a micro-prairie on its roof, complete with creeping succulents and waving grasses. The prairie absorbs rain that would otherwise contribute to flooding and, on a scorching summer's day, lowers the roof's temperature by about 50 Fahrenheit degrees (28 Celsius degrees), thus tripling its life. About 150 other buildings, including those of Apple Computer, Target and a prominent McDonald's, have followed suit. The city provides all sorts of incentives to encourage acts of greenery, and sets green examples, such as using cars that run on compressed natural gas or ethanol and heaters that run on recycled oil.

My main complaint is that the series takes a Richard Florida "Bohemian culture will save the city" approach– while it could use a bit more of Joel Kotkin's "keep the middle class with safety and decent schools" take. 


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