Going Global Chicago-style

A joint project of the Brookings Institute and JPMorgan Chase analyzed what makes cities relatively global and recently produced a report. The writing describes “the 10 traits of globally fluent metro areas.” Globally fluent as  far as I can tell means that the city matters. It tells other cities what to do and can only be bullied around by a select few of its colleagues. So here’s what it said (and did not say) about International Chicago.

Your’s truly read through the report and found a lot of globally fluent traits right here in Chicago. Firstly, seeming appropriate for the Second City, the report found us a “second-tier global city”. But before you get too upset, this places us in the same tier as Hong Kong and Singapore. Thus, we are as influential as at least one country! 

Chicago reached this level during the eighties and nineties alongside a quixiotic mix of Barcelona, Seattle, Sydney, and Tel Aviv. They contrasted Chicago’s progress with poor Milwaukee and Buffalo who “lost” their global fluency. Furthermore, the city’s rise was not as Geographer Jan Nijman put it due to “unplanned occurrence.” Unlike Miami’s relative luck, the City of Big Shoulders remained true to its name fighting hard for its economic, financial, and trade might. To me this seemed to be a little to kind to our city and too mean to Miami. Behind both was geography, and while Miami may not have encouraged some of its expansion of influence (just look at how ridiculously bad customs is at their airport), the state is a beacon of low taxes (Tiger Woods) and scurting legal norms found elsewhere in America (OJ Simpson). 

Finally, the study goes over the pros & cons of global fluency in Chicago. The metro area is “America’s most internationally significant non-coastal region.” Along those same lines, you have to give credit to where its due, Mayor Daley. His international efforts were unparralleled. While most cities now offer Chinese and Arabic, he was one of the first. He went abroad frequently to drum up trade and picked winners such as China. 

Yet, it was not all good news: transportation. While above average in access to public transportation, commutes are quite long even compared to equally populated cities. The report found only 24% of jobs in the region could be reached by public transit in less than 90 minutes. 

The two words I never saw: Poaching & Corruption

This generally glowing view of Chicago is very true, yet I still worry about the future role it will play internationally. This is for two reasons poaching economic strength and corruption.

The first is poaching jobs. While Governor Quinn was down in Mexico promoting trade with Illinois, Texas officials were hear advertising the benefits of their state AND the governor of California was in China promoting trade with his state. The pie of world GDP isn’t growing like it used to. When you only have a certain number of slices, you have to steal the economic and trade strength from others. In and of itself, I believe this would be just fine under the leadership of a Mayor who was not up to his ears in domestic in-fighting. Strength and political solidarity is just the business climate to be invested in. 

Yet, the widespread corruption of the state is the bigger problem for Chicago. When my Elections class had Congressman Walsh speak last fall, he noted that the state was the laughing stock in Washington due to its mismanagement. Whether this was true only his conservative circles or throughout, the result is the same: a branding disaster. There is a reason that US’s own development group the Millenium Challenge Corporation will not assist any developing country with too high a level of corruption – its perceived bad for business.



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