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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Putting aside any of those toxic "greatest city" threads, let me plow in a different direction.

Is Chicago the poster child for what an American city should be?

I suspect the answer is a resounding "YES!". My impression, on and off this board, is that if you are looking for a model of what you want your city to become, Chicago is the place that is offered up as the example.

The term a Chicago (as in "becoming a Chicago) has taken on the meaning of creating a vibrant and successful urban core (as sadly the term a Detroit conveys the opposite).

Do others see the same use of language, the same way of holding up Chicago to show what could be, or what should be? I honestly have never seen any other city used in this sense and I suspect I am right here.
 

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Discussion Starter · #2 ·
BTW, I was by no means suggesting that Chicago is an urban paradise,nor am I suggesting that we don't have serious urban problems. We do.

I was attempting to zero in on people's perceptions, as opposed to the realities that all cities have major things wrong with them.
 

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i think around the midwest you'll find a lot of people in other cities looking to emulate chicago's successes, but i think that that type of recognition falls off in direct proportion to one's distance from chicago. i mean, i don't think the folks in san fran, portland, seattle, NYC, boston, miami, etc. really look at chicago as some kind of poster child role model for city development.

perhaps a better way to say it would be: "Chicago: poster child for what a midwestern city should be?"
 

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i think it does , i feel the definition of city in the dictionary should be chicago or at least show a pic of chicago . i think chicago exeplifies the idea of a city to the fillest extent and in every way pos. more so than other cities. other cities are very city like but chicago is the biggest one . LA leans to much tward the suburban idea. and ny's geographical settup messes with the one big city thing , it in some ways appears more like a combanation of city like sections but not one contiguous entity in the way chicago is.
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
sharptent said:
i think around the midwest you'll find a lot of people in other cities looking to emulate chicago's successes, but i think that that type of recognition falls off in direct proportion to one's distance from chicago. i mean, i don't think the folks in san fran, portland, seattle, NYC, boston, miami, etc. really look at chicago as some kind of poster child role model for city development.

perhaps a better way to say it would be: "Chicago: poster child for what a midwestern city should be?"
no, sharptent, i don't believe that it is a regional thing.

my point was not that Chicago is the best loved or greatest city as much as it serves as a role model for where other cities want to be.

San Francisco, for example, is far more desirable than it is functional. It hardly projects a city that is well balanced in its efforts to reach the right urban mix. SF tends to be too wealthy, too family unfriendly, and more of a posterchild for urban gridlock (things don't get done in SF; it is a horrendously contentious city where consensus can and does often get blocked) than it is for urban success.

Miami, for all its sizzle, would never be used as an urban success story or as a model for how people would want their city work. NYC's overpowering nature, while often appreciated when in the Big Apple, is not necessarily something that you want to bring back home with you.

So, I'm sticking to the original contention here. Yes, I do believe that Chicago is viewed nationally on how a city should develop, function, and work for its citizens.

Personally when I read Time's article on the best urban mayors, that special Chgo quality came across on the lead section, the one on Daley.
 

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edsg25 said:
no, sharptent, i don't believe that it is a regional thing.
i do.

and no amount of your chicago boosterism is going to convince me otherwise, so we'll just have to agree to disagree.
 

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I think Chicago is the most American of American cities.
 

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"San Francisco, for example, is far more desirable than it is functional. It hardly projects a city that is well balanced in its efforts to reach the right urban mix."

And Chicago is well-balanced? I hate to be the one who always brings this kind of stuff up, but a big percentage of Chicago is not very pretty, and this city hasn't worked as a general rule for such important constituencies as, say, black people.
 

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^ What I mean to say: there are a lot of things about Chicago that work, and a lot that don't. I just don't think it's reasonable to hold up a city that has a big crime problem, segregation and hasn't recovered from riots 35 years ago in large sections and say, "Here's what cities should be like!"

You can point to neighborhoods like Albany Park or Wicker Park and say, "Here's what an immigrant community/young persons' community should be like!" Or Hyde Park and say, "This is what a university community should be like!" But the city as a whole is far from an urban role model.
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
oshkeoto said:
"San Francisco, for example, is far more desirable than it is functional. It hardly projects a city that is well balanced in its efforts to reach the right urban mix."

And Chicago is well-balanced? I hate to be the one who always brings this kind of stuff up, but a big percentage of Chicago is not very pretty, and this city hasn't worked as a general rule for such important constituencies as, say, black people.
well, of course much of Chicago is still not very pretty and many of its citizens suffer (and the inequities are considerable). Where did you get the idea I thought this was some urban paradise. It isn't. No place is and no US city has done an admirable job in truly dealing with those issues.

That was never my point. Even in an era of urban revival, US cities are still grappling with lots of problems. And also despite the revial, if we want to be honest about it, suburbia still dominates cities in the US and urban ills are rampant in many places.

All I was trying to say is that Chicago is the city usually the place that is pointed to in creating the type of urban environment that is alive, has critical mass, and has the means (i.e. transportation) to make it work.

My intent was never Chicago boosterism as Sharptent suggested, nor a lack of recogniztion of Chicago's ills, as you point out here.

It was (still is, and still believed by me to be) a recognition that Chicago's vibrancy is very often held up as a standard that other cities would like to achieve. I've heard the term "the next Chicago" used too many times to think otherwise.
 

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I have read a couple references to Daley as "one of the best urban leaders" as one of the best urban leaders here on the west coast, but for the most part, in the mainstream press and in the populist opinion, Chicago has a reputation for not being the a great place to live, mostly having to do with the weather.
 

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I think Chicago is the epitome of American cities, as in the most perfect model of a classic American industrial city, due to its size and its balance of urbanity and density with small-scale neighborhood life. Because it's the big kid on the block, it gets a lot of attention as a role model from other (de facto smaller) cities. Whether that's a good thing is an open question. I prefer to think that no city can ever be perfect and good models can come from unexpected places. But when an American thinks of a generic "city", I posit that what they think of is something very closely approximating Chicago.

I leave Los Angeles and New York out of the comparison, however.

L.A., as a sunbelt suburban metropolis is the epitomoe of that type of city. But I don't think it's fair to compare an older industrial city like Chicago with a younger sunbelt 'burb town. They just don't function the same way in terms of the importance--or even existence--of a dominant city center.

I don't leave New York out because it's bigger, or "better", or any comparative reason like that, either. I simply have always felt that in terms of density, absolute allegiance to the core--and to public transit, and the heterogenous nature of New York neighborhoods (i.e. the way that a previous poster has said that New York feels more like a balkanized collection of villages than one unified city) New York is much more a European model of a major city than an American model of one. I feel this is probably due to the city's much greater age and its historic role as the primary port for European immigrants in the 19th century.

I bet I'm in the minority on this. But I compare New York to big European cities, not because they're larger than other American cities like Chicago (they aren't always, anyway) but because the outlook of the populace is just different. New Yorkers find the density normal and thrive on it, as do residents of dense European cities like London, or Paris, or Madrid, or Lisbon. Chicagoans, like most other urban Americans, to me always seem to be obsessed with the search for more space, bigger homes, escaping the center of town. That's a very American trait. But you don't find it to anywhere near the same extent in NYC. So in this fundamental respect, I've always seen New York as a very not-American city model.

However, I do think New York City's neighborhood life is sorely underrated by some people on the forum. High-rise parts of Manhattan are wildly dense. But there are low-rise brownstone neighborhoods in Manhattan and Brooklyn and swaths and swaths of single-family houses all across the city beyond Manhattan. I think NYC visitors experience only Manhattan and peg the rest of the city to be as dense and hectic. That's like visiting the Loop and thinking Ravenswood or South Deering would be just the same.

I mean, I'm a New York native who moved to Chitown two years ago. For those Chicagoans who think New York life would be so unbearable, oddly enough in many ways you already live in New York but just don't know it. Because to a New Yorker like me (and God I've heard this from many other NYC transplants), Chicago feels, uncannily, like Queens.
 

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^Queens, to me, seems to be the most "Chicago-like" borough of NY.

Chicago has historically been, even moreso than New York, the model city for urban planners in America, much the same way Paris is for Europe. New York is wildy dense and active and is more comparable to London or Tokyo, but New York has a slew of problems that result from such densities... problems Chicago has a much easier time dealing with because it's a bit more spacious yet still very urban and active. Chicago to me, is perhaps THE model for what is the right urban neighborhood development for families.

I don't think many people think about this, but many of Chicago's neighborhoods are just downright BEAUTIFUL, and I'm not talking about architecture. I'm talking about how the buildings mix well with the streets and the landscaping, the last being something many urban cities... even New York, fall short in in many areas. Chicago is a city that manages to make all of this fit into a beautiful streetscape, which makes for beautiful neighborhoods and a beautiful city. I think it is THE American model for practical urban planning that strikes a balance between the benefits of urban neighborhoods and the benefits of having a bit of breathing room. New York (more specifically, Manhattan) is certainly a model to follow if you want to pack as many people into as small a reasonable area as possible. Chicago is the model if you're looking for urban balance.
 

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Rail Claimore said:
but New York has a slew of problems that result from such densities... problems Chicago has a much easier time dealing with because it's a bit more spacious yet still very urban and active.
And guess what many problems come with being a spacious city too, most notably a higher dependence on cars and a comparative shitty public transit system.
 

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ThirdCoast312 said:
And guess what many problems come with being a spacious city too, most notably a higher dependence on cars and a comparative shitty public transit system.
Sure, one can say Chicago is more car dependent than New York, but I would not call Chicago a car-dependent city in the same sense as say... Atlanta. But we're not talking about suburban sprawl here, we're talking about cohesive urban neighborhoods that are pedestrian oriented.

Most things in excess, whether it be density or space, have diminishing margins of returns when it comes to livability as well as economics. A city with a density of 100K psm is just as inefficient to run as a city of only 1K psm. If you want a better comparison on ultra-dense vs dense, try Chinese cities vs Japanese cities. It's almost unarguable which one has higher livability. And ironically enough, Japanese cities are about the most transit-oriented on the planet.
 

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Discussion Starter · #16 ·
Oshkeoto, I want to deal with some of the issues you have with the way the city of Chicago operates; it also is relevant to other US cities, as well.

The agenda of this country is being led by the GOP, which controls two branches of our government, and is clearly going after the third with a religious fervor (pun intended). The Republicans have put together a coaltion that, safe to say, is anti-urban, anti-diversity, and against any justifiable social issue that needs funding. We don't fund our cities; we fund a war in Iraq.

Meanwhile, no matter how we celebrate them here on this forum, US cities are not on the rise, in assent, as much as they have created high profile structures that make them appear they are healthier than they truly are. Flashy high rises, retro ball parks, and trendy Starbucks often mask cities falling apart at the seams behind the cores, behind the gentification. Truthfully, this still is a suburban based society, one that during the current era seems to be governed and influenced by rural communities.

So Chicago has run down neighborhoods, racial issues, and obscene disparity between rich and poor. Welcome to America. No city can fight these ills effectively without a dedicated federal policy to see that it is accomplished.

That's why I think Chicago does serve as a model for other cities. With the above mentioned ills comes a city that has been able to work the system and to successfully operate in these cash starved, city-unfriendly times.

Chicago has a strong core (partially a gift from an earlier era), thrieving neighborhoods, urban fabric, unparraeleled civic amenities (Navy Pier, Mil Park, Museum Campus, endless miles of lakefront parks, incredible streetscaping,etc..... and a transportation system to tie it all together .....IMHO, no city can compete on this level with Chgo).

So, yes, I do think other cities hold Chicago up as the example of what could be. Not because it is as exciting as New York, as beautiful as San Francisco, as mellow as Seattle, intellectual as Boston, cutting edge as LA, pristine as Minneapolis, but because it can put together and package a modern American city in the most complete, effective, and noteworthy way. Chicago may or may not be the "top" in any one category; but no city has so many categories close to the top as does Chicago. The complete package. The City That Works works; no city offers such a full range of pure urban joy in a setting that is effecient, user friendly, and functional.

The spillover effect: Chicago works for its less fortunate better than the Detroit's of the nation, because of its successes. It can deal with issues of poverty because it can afford to more than Detroit. Does this come with a cost? The transformation of Cabrini Green would indicate that it certainly does. But I find Daley & Co's hell-bent desire to keep this city healthy and making money will actually prevent future Cabrini's in that a financially healthy city can better deal with problems of poverty than an impoverished one.

Do I wish these were more city-friendly times nationally and that the federal government had more interest in the plight of its citizens? Undoubtedly. But in the absense, I'm glad to Chicago use its street smarts that creates an urban environment that not only functions, but thrieves, in this city-unfriendly era.
 

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^Well yes, like I said... from a mere urban planning/engineering perspective in getting maximum efficiency in public services for such a large city, Chicago is pretty tough to beat. It's got some natural advantages in its gridded street system and relative flatness... plus Lake Michigan at its disposal for water.

If that's what you're refering to, then I see your point. You're talking about nuts and bolts, not flashiness and clusterfucks.
 

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Rail Claimore said:
^ New York (more specifically, Manhattan) is certainly a model to follow if you want to pack as many people into as small a reasonable area as possible. Chicago is the model if you're looking for urban balance.
True, but remember, to a New Yorker or many a resident of a city with that level of density, New York is the balanced city and more spacious cities like Chicago are seen as lopsided too much in favor of a more suburban density.
 
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