With yet one more former governor heading to the big house, and our former junior senator muddling through the mess in Washington, closely counseled by his Cook County entourage, there is murmuring out there in the land of a thousand pundits once again about “the Chicago way.”
As the urbanologist, Joel Kotkin said in his most recent column at Forbes.com:
“Crony capitalism constitutes the essential element of what the legendary columnist John Kass of the Chicago Tribune has labeled both the ‘Chicago way’ and the ‘Illinois Combine,’ not primarily an ideology-driven movement. The political system, he notes, ‘knows no party, only appetites.’”
While this portrays a dark and cynical picture of the place where we live our lives out, out here on the cusp of where Chicago ends and Illinois begins, right here in Elgin, Illinois, local politics appear to be becoming more transparent, laced with prudence, and some of those expensive shenanigans are draining to the curb.
Who knows, a little austerity might be good for the ethical soul.
I have become fascinated by the self-observation that my distaste and distrust of the political class in general is being grudgingly offset by a certain respect and even friendship I have come to have for and with politicians that I actually know.
Tip O’Neil has been quoted to the level of boredom with his one great cliché, that “All politics is local.” If only that were so.
Unfortunately, some needs require grand scale, but it appears the more we scale up, the more gridlock, graft, waste, polarization and deficit-spending is fed to the beast. While the “supercommittee” tried but came to naught on multi-trillion dollar problems, we in Elgin have utilized the combined efforts of a professional city manager’s staff, a local volunteer group of citizens dedicated to the task, and several public hearings to address that “structural deficit” in the city’s wallet.
And we are actually making progress, but then we must, since unlike the feds we can’t just print up greenbacks and call it “quantitative easing.”
All this brings to consideration where we indeed do live and what we expect or desire from the place we have placed ourselves. It lets that ‘city in the suburbs’ slogan resonate with a meaning deeper and more salient than just its p.r. sang froid.
Here are some numbers:
“The core municipality of Chicago lost 200,000 residents between 2000 and 2010. Suburban growth was 546,000, adding up to total metropolitan area growth of 346,000 people. The suburbs accounted for 158 percent of the metropolitan area growth. The core municipality decline was stunning in the face of the much ballyhooed urban renaissance in that great city. Yet this renaissance was limited enough as to not lead to an expanding population.
“The decline in the core municipality population represents a major departure from the 2009 Bureau of the Census estimates, which would have implied a 2010 population at least 170,000 higher (assumes the growth rate of 2008 to 2009).
“Instead all of the growth was in the outer suburbs, beyond the inner suburbs of Cook County.”
Source: Wendell Cox at New Geography.
At the point of Census, Chicago, the city, had a population of 2,895,671. The suburbs came in at 6,053,068 for a metropolitan total of 8,948,739. Illinois, the fifth most populated state, had 12,830,632 people.
So in spite of all the conjecture by ‘new urbanists’ and exuberant media, the suburban world is where people overwhelmingly have chosen to live, as they have so relentlessly been doing so for the last 60 plus years.
People are fundamentally simple; they require feasible and affordable homes, they need decent jobs, and they want places to play. Issues like safety, schools, and ‘social capital’ also come into the picture. In general, for most of us, the suburbs are where America settles down.
But these suburbs are evolving as well. The days of “little boxes all made of ticky-tacky” have long vanished, and perhaps they never were more than the fervid condescending imagination of self-righteous folk Marxist bohemians with acoustic guitars.
The intangible, internet-enabled but quite real ‘quality of life’ extends out to and now comes from the suburbs, particularly outer suburbs, or even more convivially, from a place like ours, a ‘city in the suburbs’.
In short, as author Phillip McDermott wrote,
“The proposition is simple, if not overwhelming. If we want sustainable cities—however you define ‘sustainable’—we had better put some effort into the quality of suburban life. We need to get over denigrating suburbs and sprawl. That simply ducks the issue of where and how most people spend most of their time. “
Elgin is as good a place as any to intersect with the future, we may even be in the right place at the right time. Big enough to be cosmopolitan, small enough to be democratically manageable.