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Gay News Sponsor Windy City Times 2023-09-06



Can Chicago escape the 'urban doom loop?'
by Nick Patricca

This article shared 2758 times since Mon Sep 4, 2023
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Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, major U.S. cities were experiencing strong growth fueled by financial and technological sectors of the economy. COVID, however, caused a massive change in population migration and work behavior which has created a vicious cycle of economic downturns that have hit our major population hubs hard.

This vicious cycle has been termed the "urban doom loop."

Highly-skilled and talented tech and finance workers are working more from their homes, often abandoning their offices in the commercial centers of our cities. Many workers and city residents are also seeking homes in the suburbs or the countryside to avoid the population density of urban life in the era of COVID. These migration and work patterns seem here to stay.

New York and Boston are recovering from these downturns to pre-COVID levels. But San Francisco and Seattle continue to be stuck in this downward death spiral affecting their core commercial centers in spite of the billions of tech dollars aggregated in the greater Silicon Valley area by corporate capitalism.

Let's take a look at Chicago.

This year, Chicago's office vacancy rate has risen to a record high of 22.6%. Cell phone usage in the central commercial core—another key measure of business, tourist, and shopping activity—is only 50% of what it was in pre-COVID 2019. Since 2022, three Fortune 500 corporate headquarters have left the Chicago metropolitan commercial area: Citadel to Florida; Boeing to Virginia; Caterpillar to Texas. Major retailers are closing downtown shopping district stores: ATT; GAP; Banana Republic; Macy; Abercrombie & Fitch; Verizon; and Old Navy, among many others. These closings caused a cascade of closings of small businesses that could not survive without the shoppers these major retailers attract or the office workers who no longer work in their downtown offices.

According to Chicago Data Portal, carjackings in the City of Chicago during the 2021/2022 reporting period reached a high of over 1800. In the 2022/23 reporting, period vehicle thefts of all kinds reached a record high of 20,000. The growing incidents of violent flash mob behavior add to the fears and apprehensions of Chicago residents, businesspeople and visitors, thus inhibiting robust economic development.

Cities are delicate ecosystems relying upon intricate infrastructures nourishing and keeping the whole environment healthy. The ecosystem collapses when essential infrastructures fail and citizens lose faith in the government and in their financial prospects.

Columbia University professor Stijn Van Nieuwerburgh, and his colleagues Arpit Gupta, New York University, and James M. Poterba, MIT, have coined the term "urban doom loop" to describe the tipping point in the downward spiral of financial factors that might prevent a city from recovering its economic vigor.

Is Chicago in a doom loop? Not yet but …

Revitalizing Chicago's Working Force and Small Businesses

Social mobility is the key to urban stability and progress. Education and financial opportunity are the engines of social mobility.

People must feel safe to live, work and shop in Chicago. Public schools must educate productive citizens prepared with skills and attitudes demanded by our rapidly evolving technological society. Government regulations and tax structures must support rather than hinder business initiatives.

Chicago has always been a city where anyone could come and try to make a go of things—find a good job, open a small business, get a good education, buy a home, raise a family.

I come from a working class, Italian-American family in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I came here in 1966 with very few dollars in my pocket to get a Ph.D. I was taken in by a Polish family whom I met by chance until I could find a place on the campus of the University of Chicago. I made Chicago my home because of the welcome Chicago and its citizens have always given me.

A thriving working class and ambitious small business class have always been the backbone of Chicago. Wave after wave of minorities—including sexual minorities—and migrants revitalized our city neighborhoods creating businesses, jobs, cultural centers, and homes.

Social mobility made Chicago attractive to migrants from all over the USA, and all over the world, making Chicago a world class center of industry, arts, architecture and entrepreneurial innovation.

The working classes must be able to afford good housing and the benefits of city living—good medical care, quality education, dining out, enjoying the arts and museums. Our property tax system—the second highest in the nation—and other tax structures are inhibiting the growth of affordable home ownership. Vast swaths of city land, which could be used to build low-cost housing, lay vacant because of arcane taxing policies.

The small business classes must feel secure to open businesses and invest in the city's cultural and artistic life. Crime—and the fear of crime—combined with regressive tax structures drive small businesses out of Chicago, depriving the city of jobs and tax revenues.

Chicago has world class higher education. Our public school system has some outstanding elementary and high schools. But, overall, the Chicago public school system, with a budget of over $9.4 billion for fiscal year 2023, is failing us.

The Civic Federation of Chicago, Brooking Metro, the MacArthur Foundation, and other civic organizations have issued strong plans for getting Chicago back on a sustainable economic track for its best future. There is no lack of proper analysis, no lack of good data.

Police reform; school reform; fiscal reform, including pension reform; elimination of fat and corruption from government; and the rooting out of systemic racism are all achievable.

We have the resources and the talent to escape the urban doom loop. Do we still have the political courage to continue to make Chicago the welcoming city of opportunity.

Labor Day September 2023 ©

Nick Patricca is professor emeritus at Loyola University Chicago; president of Chicago Network for Justice and Peace; member, Writers in Prison, San Miguel PEN; member, TOSOS Theatre Ensemble, NYC.

This article shared 2758 times since Mon Sep 4, 2023
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