Friday, May 13, 2016

A Tale of Two Cities, conclusion.

In the final installment (I promise) of my series on why I think Chicago is nicer than it's ever been (as long as you're white and/or live on the North Side), I want to address two final challenges facing the city, police brutality and racism, and its finances and economy.

As for the first, from that piece in The Week (all emphasis mine):

The task force said the police were guilty of "decades of racism," and had "a long, sad history of death, false imprisonment, physical and verbal abuse." Cops who brutalized black citizens, the report said, rarely faced consequences.

But as the Times article concedes:

These problems and divides are not unique to Chicago. Cleveland, Baltimore and Ferguson, Mo., have all been convulsed after black people died in encounters with police officers, and neighborhood segregation and budget and school problems are common in the nation’s major cities.

The Times piece doesn't mention New York for some reason, but that's a picture of Eric Garner, above, just minutes before an NYPD officer put him in a fatal chokehold two years ago. (I was going to include the video but it was just too graphic.)

Or, heck, how about Milwaukee, our neighbor to the north? Just read "Democratic, Republican voters worlds apart in divided Wisconsin: Entire communities vote red or blue as metro Milwaukee grows more politically segregated with nearly every election cycle," or "The Unelectable Whiteness of Scott Walker: A journey through the poisonous, racially divided world that produced a Republican star" if you're not familiar with racism in the Cream City.

(By the way, if you haven't been to Wisconsin lately you might be shocked by how much it's changed. The state that once produced such progressive leaders as Fighting Bob La Follette now more resembles Mississippi. One of my wife's childhood friends told her recently that the Newtown school shooting was "staged" so that President Obama could "take away our guns." She really said that.)

So it's not just Chicago, okay? In fact, it's probably more accurate to say that racism and police brutality are an American problem, not a Chicago problem. Be honest: could you say that your city is devoid of racism? And is police brutality something new, or are we just more aware of it since the proliferation of cell phones? (According to a study by the Equal Justice Initiative, between the years 1877 and 1950 nearly 4,000 blacks were lynched in the Jim Crow South.)

To sum it up, racism is still a problem everywhere in America (and probably always will be) but we're finally becoming aware of police brutality. If you're white, like me, just admit (to yourself, at least) that you're not color blind. The question is, would you like to be?

As for Chicago's finances, The Week says:

Chicago is "a fiscal basket case," says urban analyst Aaron Renn, with a lower credit rating than any major metropolis except Detroit.

The city's 6.6 percent jobless rate ranks 51st — dead last — among metropolitan areas with more than 1 million residents.

Its strapped school system seems perpetually on the verge of collapse, and last month teachers staged a one-day strike to protest closings and budget cuts.

The [city] has incurred $20 billion in unfunded pension debt by giving generous public pensions to unions.

Deindustrialization, the Great Recession, and other economic forces eliminated 7 percent of Chicago's jobs between 2000 and 2010 — a higher share than in any other of the nation's 10 largest metro areas. Chicago has no marquee industry to help drive its economy — unlike New York (finance), Los Angeles (entertainment), and Washington, D.C. (government). "Its wealth was built by dominating America's agro-industrial complex," Renn says, "railroads, meatpacking, lumber processing, and grain processing, but that is long gone." That loss has only deepened the city's entrenched poverty and racial divisions. "Chicago is experiencing a steep decline, quite different from that of many other large cities," Renn says. "It is a deeply troubled place."

Is it really? When I walk around Chicago's neighborhoods all I see are brand-new million-dollar house after brand-new million-dollar house after brand-new million-dollar house after...

Are all those people broke or over-extended? I kind of doubt it.

According to the Times piece, Chicago:

[has added] 41 corporate headquarters and nearly 100,000 jobs here over the past five years.

And it's true. Walk around the downtown some time -- it's thriving! Don't believe me? According to a piece in the Atlantic, as recently as 2011 Chicago's GDP rivaled that of Switzerland's. And Wikipedia estimates that the state of Illinois' GDP is larger than that of the Netherlands.

So don't tell me Chicago's economy is "deeply troubled" or it's a "fiscal basket case." There's plenty of money here -- and it's still coming in! It's just a question of priorities. For example, my property taxes in Glenview were much higher than in the city. And New York City (and Philadelphia, I think) has a commuter tax. Again, the money is here to pay for all of Chicago's "problems." You just have to go and get it.

Finally, a word about Mayor Rahm Emanuel. I don't follow state or local politics nearly as closely as I do national so I'm not the best person to listen to on the subject. But, as far as I can tell, Mr. Emanuel has done a pretty decent job as mayor. He's made a lot of tough decisions that the previous mayors avoided. Also, Rahm is caught in the middle of the toxic (there's an overused word) back-and-forth between the megalomaniac Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan and his Scott-Walker-wannabe foe, Gov. Bruce Rauner. Who would want the job of mayor of Chicago, anyway? It's a thankless task, unless you want to use it as a springboard to higher office. I guess with all of its perceived problems, if you could turn it around you'd be a hero.

Anyway, that's my rant on Chicago and why I think it's probably the most "livable" big city in America.

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