Chicago in the 21st Century

Chicago’s evolution into a “global city” is well documented in Twenty-First Century Chicago, but there’s still more room for growth, according to Dick Simpson, one of the two editors of the book. In light of the NATO summit converging in the city, Chicago Tonight spoke with Simpson, a former alderman and now professor at University of Illinois at Chicago, about its impending global presence come May. Excerpts:

What does it mean for Chicago’s global image that the G-8 summit was moved to Camp David?

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The moving of one summit isn’t as critical as how the NATO summit does. If it’s a repeat of 1968 and it’s a disaster, then this doesn’t seem to be a very attractive place. If we’re able to host on a world stage something this important and it goes off well—even if there’s a protest—then we really look like a global player. Our interest is already having its effects. I know from working with consul generals that there are already transactions occurring where other nations are focusing more on Chicago than other American cities.

Why was Chicago chosen to be the global stage?

President Obama didn’t want to use one of the coast cities like New York or Washington, D.C., and he wanted somewhere to represent the United States, so he chose his hometown—and Rahm Emanuel wanted it. It fit the general pattern of what they were working for and they knew it, and we had done major events before and it would be capable of it.

What are the implications if it goes awry?

It would be kind of like the 1968 Democratic convention. It publicizes the city in a negative way. We can recover from that. It will take time. Whereas what we’re hoping for is an immediate bounce in tourism and conventions and business relationships, particularly. And that would be less likely if it seems like a bad place to be because bad things happened here, like protesters getting beat up or stuff like that.

The city just settled a lawsuit from the Iraq war protests in 2003. Your reaction now as we approach the NATO summit?

I think the big issue now is if the city is going to learn from 1968 and 2003. There is a way to be more accommodating and helpful to protesters while still maintaining law, order and peace. The city started out on a harsh tone like they did before. That’s not going to be the best conditions because it sets up conflict. In 1968, they closed parks at 11:00 pm, beat up protesters and used tear gas. And they wouldn’t issue parade permits. Protesters had nowhere to legally protest. It set up a conflict. There would have always been protesters.

Rahm Emanuel received backlash from proposed ordinances targeting protesters. Explain.

The city did compromise. The aldermen were upset with the ordinances, not just people from the outside. While they didn’t reach a perfect new stance, the city has issued permits for the two big events.

A new permit was denied yesterday.

That one was denied, but the first one was issued. So this is sort of a work in progress. The city is not quite as flexible as it started out being. It’s a matter of whether or not they can find a way to handle the event that’s positive for the city. I’ve personally met with the mayor’s staff about this, so I know they’re at least willing to listen to suggestions, but not willing to implement them all.

So Chicago is being put on this global stage – what does it mean?

There’s another big issue that is beyond the immediate event – we already are in a way a global city, so we no longer have to decide if we’re going to be a global city. What we have to decide is what kind of global city we will be. One of the bad parts is that the gap between rich and poor increases. The middle class gets decimated. Global cities are often not livable outside the tourist bubble. So our problem is to be a global city in which some of the profits of being a global city are more distributed and we make the entire metropolitan region humane and livable. We’re only starting to address that challenge.

When representatives from other nations come to Chicago, what impression will they have?

When they come in advance, like many of them are, they see the beautiful Millennium Park, go to a four-star restaurant, and go to an orchestra. They leave with a good impression. If they explore more deeply, they’ll see the high unemployment, poverty, and tearing down of public housing without replacing it. They see the façade of the Loop area, and Millennium Park and the lakefront. Most travelers leave with a positive impact because of what they see. Chicagoans have a much different image because they know about all the killings last weekend. They know about the level of unemployment. Our view is a little different from the diplomat who flies in for a week.


Dick Simpson, former alderman and now head of the political science department at the University of Illinois at Chicago, joins us on Chicago Tonight at 7:00 pm to talk about his book, Twenty-First Century Chicago. Read an excerpt from the book below.

Choosing Chicago's Future

Chicago was born more than one hundred and fifty years ago. Some of our suburbs are over a century old. As the third largest city in the United States, we have a population of just under three million people. Eight and a half million live in the Chicago metropolitan region; so we are larger in population and have greater wealth than most nations in the world.

During the last several decades, Chicago has been transformed into a "global city." At the same time population, jobs, and housing stock have declined for the first time in the history of the city since the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. We are also enduring the "Great Recession," which began in 2008.

The "political machine" that has governed the city since the Chicago Fire and, more firmly since its reorganization in 1931, was transformed under Mayor Richard M. Daley even as it was challenged by independent reform political forces. His twenty-two-year reign brought Chicago into the global economy and reoriented political power.

The mayoral and aldermanic elections of 2011 were watershed elections just as Mayor Washington's 1983 and Mayor Daley's 1989 elections were. We are at a point of transformation once again as Mayor Rahm Emanuel and a new city council face a billion and a half dollar structural deficit.

The governing structures in the Chicago metropolitan region today remain antiquated and misaligned for any meaningful form of regional governance. Meanwhile racial minorities such as African Americans and Latinos have become the majority in the city and in a number of suburbs. They will soon play an ever more important role.

In this book, we explore many of the fundamental conditions of Chicago metropolitan life. While some of the articles in the book will stress the region's shortcomings, we want to emphasize that Chicago has many possibilities for a positive future. We have some of the best businesses on the planet. We have a population that represents nearly every segment of the world and speaks nearly all of its languages. We have a positive history of reform efforts (as well as a history of scandals and rogues). By our decisions and our actions, we will collectively determine the future of Chicago in the twenty-first century.

– Dick Simpson and Constance A. Mixon, Twenty-First Century Chicago, Cognella, 2012


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