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Old November 18th, 2004, 12:21 AM   #1
edsg25's Avatar
Join Date: Jul 2004
Location: Chicago
Posts: 9,195
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Chicago, perception....and destiny?

I've got a theory working in my head about Chicago and I want to run it by you guys who know the city so well. I want to see if my paradigm borders on reality.

Cities rise and fall along the way, but some are destined for greatness. Chicago, I'm sure we'd agree, is one that does.

Chicago's rise came early enough in US history as our nation moved westward. Water connections between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River got the ball rolling. The Erie Canal created a NY-Chgo bond; New York was determined to make its fortune on trade with the west and Chicago would be the western terminus. St. Louis never really had a chance after that; Chicago would be the city of the interior. Through rail, future exchanges, industry and the growth of population it fostered, Chicago developed and changed, reinventing itself along the way when necessary.

The Second City was permanently and crucially etched into the nation's consciousness before the 20th century began. And Chicago development went on straight through the first half of that century, to the end of WWII.

And then things changed. America was in flux after the war. Chicago and other big cities in the East and Midwest were in decline. The industries that were so important to their being were diminishing. Race was becoming a huge issue. Crime to. And the expressways drove folks to the suburbs and left the problems behind. Meanwhile air conditioning and the Civil Rights movement made the South a more desirable place to be. The whole Sun Belt drew folks from the north in great numbers.

The Second City was in trouble. And, despite New York's finanacial woes in the 1970's, Chicago probably suffered a lot more in its national role during this era than did NYC. Council wars, Beirut-by-the-Lake spelled big trouble for Chicago, despite an business and cultural infrastructure that was not going to fade away (Chicago was not Detroit).

During this era of eastern and midwestern decline, LA rose as a city and became the example of what the future was to be: low rise, car oriented, a relaxed life style.


Yet today, it would appear (and this part is my theory) that Chicago's decline in the 1950's-80's was just a blip, a speedbump on a city that wasn't really going to lose its status. Instead a city that was going to reinvent itself again. That's what seems to have happened.

I think a lot of the LA-Chgo crap we get on this board is due to the fact that LA and Chgo sort of switched postions. Certainly in population. But other ways, as well. LA did seem like the place in the 50's and 60's and Chicago seemed tired, worn out, and unsure of itself.

With growth and congestion, LA found out it could not function as the city free of the restraints of eastern/midwestern living. A lot of the LA lifestyle became discredited and LA, rightfully so, began to redefine itself and has, in fact, become more refreshingly urban today.

So a lot the LA-Chicago crap might stem from the fact that if LA appeared to be on top of Chicago in the 50's and 60's, that is certainly not the case today. Both cities are pretty potent forces. But we may all be too close to the memories of LA on the rise and Chicago on the decline to fully understand the postion of either city today.
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