Streetwise Professor

December 29, 2012

Sweet Home Chicago-That Was an Ironic Statement

Filed under: Uncategorized — The Professor @ 7:20 pm

I grew up in Chicago, and still consider myself a Chicagoan, as my peripatetic academic life has not led me to put down roots in any particular place.  It therefore grieves me deeply to see the current state of the city.

In some ways it is much better.  When I was in college and grad school, even near the lake you could not go south of Harrison Street (600 south, or about .6 miles south of the N-S dividing line in Chicago-Madison Street) without taking your life in your hands.  Now there is upscale development near the lake all the way down to Cermak (2200 south).   When I first went to Hyde Park in the late-70s, it was sketchy at best.  Now it is unrecognizably upscale.

But outside of these pockets, the city is a dystopian hell.  The West Side,  especially the Austin neighborhood that my grandparents fled in the late-60s.  The South Side outside of privileged enclaves like Hyde Park.

My first day in Chicago after returning from the Naval Academy is etched in my mind.  I walked from my dorm (a/k/a The Roach Motel) at 54th and Greenwood to the AT&T store to set up a land line (there’s an anachronism for you).  The store was located at 47th and King Drive.  After crossing the corner of Cottage Grove and 47th I saw a blood trail on the sidewalk that led to a storefront clinic.  Then the racial epithets from the people on the street started.  When I got into the AT&T location, the woman behind the bullet proof glass stared at me like I was a space alien.  “How did you get here?”  “I walked.”  “Maybe you should call a cab to get home.”  I took the bus instead, the #3, changing to the #55 at Garfield-again to the accompaniment of disbelieving stares of those on the buses.

Between my junior and senior years, I had a summer job going to pharmacies to count non-prescription medicines on the shelves as part of marketing studies for A.C. Nielsen.  Since U of C let out late (in June), I was hired last and was assigned the worst neighborhoods.  I remember going into (running into is more accurate) a pharmacy on 47th and Prairie Avenue where everything was behind bullet proof glass.  Everything.  Customers stood in a space about 5 feet by 5 feet, and asked the store employees standing behind the glass for what they wanted through a microphone-even a bottle of Excedrin.  (At the turn of the 20th century, Prairie Avenue was the most prestigious address in Chicago.  The shells of a few mansions remain, scattered among empty lots on dreary block after dreary block.)  Hell, even the cooks and clerks at Harold’s Fried Chicken on 53rd Street were ensconced behind a wall of bullet proof glass, including a bullet proof turnstile on which they put your order. Ditto Ribs & Bibs on 53rd and Dorchester.  I can’t imagine what the Harold’s on 63rd Street was like.

Those parts of Chicago aren’t better, and are arguably worse.  This despite the dominance of Chicago politics and “governance” by “progressives” who pronounce to the world and the heavens their devotion to the poor and downtrodden.  Or, I should say, because of the dominance of Chicago politics the self-same, self-described progressives.

Yeah.  That gun control thing so beloved by the progs is working out great.  (Chicago has had some of the most draconian gun control laws in the nation-laws that the SCOTUS has struck down.)

Take a look at this John Kass interview on CNN.  Kass is the only prominent person in Chicago media who doesn’t have his head firmly implanted up his ass, or his lips firmly implanted on the asses of the progressive elite in Chicago-the elite that blessed the nation with Obama and Valerie Jarrett.

All the while proclaiming their devotion to the poor and minorities in Chicago, the progressive governing class of Chicago has looted the city and condemned its most vulnerable to a reign of terror.

As Kass notes, Chicago has always been a rough place. He mentions the gangsters of the 20s. (Family history: my great-uncle had a confrontation with a Capone lookout for the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre: he was fixing the pay phone the lookout wanted to use to call Capone’s men to alert them that Bugsy Malone’s men had arrived at the garage where the Massacre took place. My grandfather, another “telephone man” fixed Capone’s phone in the Lexington Hotel: Capone gave him a fedora to express his appreciation.) But for the most part, those conflicts were intramural. Yes, many (and arguably most) of today’s murders in Chicago are also intramural in nature, one gangbanger killing another. But the current situation is more anarchic than in the ’20s, and the spillovers more pronounced.

Chicago also has always been a very corrupt place. In the 19th century, it was the town of boodle and “wire workers.” In the 1950s-1970s, the Machine ruled, and raked off the proceeds of that rule. It was the Land of the Voting Dead. (My grandfather voted while dead.) Hence the Kennedy presidency.

The main difference is that there is a hypocrisy today that was absent in the 20s and the 1950s-1970s Indeed, in the Daley I years, there was an almost roguish pride in the thievishness of the machine. Richard the First did not have progressivist presumptions.

In contrast, those who rule over today’s dystopian Chicago are stalwarts of progressivism. They are oh-so-superior, and hardly shy about instructing the great unwashed about what is and what is not acceptable. Safe in their brownstones and high rises in the Gold Coast or other sanctuaries hard on Lake Michigan, far from the gunfire in Garfield Park or Humboldt Park, they preen in their moral rectitude.

All the while presiding over a bankrupt and violent city.

Kass scathingly refers to Obama’s failure to attend a single funeral in Chicago, whereas he makes highly publicized appearances in Tuscon or Newtown. Similarly, he made a big deal out of how Trayvon Martin could have been his son.

It rankles me that Obama has distanced himself from the neighborhood he represented in the Illinois legislature for years. He used it as a political springboard, but has left it far behind, never to be mentioned again.

Check out this website that tracks murders in Chicago. Take a little time, and see how many have taken place in Obama’s old state senate district.

Collectively, the toll is far greater than Newtown: in Chicago, the body count is about a Newtown every month. But Obama has attended not a single funeral. Indeed, he has spoken nary a word about it. He has left that world far behind. Could none of those killed have been his son? Could it be that to mention the holocaust there would be to draw attention to his failure, and the failures of the progressive “blue state” model he epitomizes?

Progressives continually assert a moral claim over the rest of us. I ask: On what basis? I look at Chicago, and see a yawning gap between the lofty asserted claims and the shabby, bloody reality.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. @Professor-thanks for this, it is an extremely good absorbing post.

    Who was the mayor that pledged to live in Cabrini-Green and lasted a couple weeks with a SWAT squad and private security providing round the clock protection?

    Comment by pahoben — December 30, 2012 @ 6:28 pm

  2. @pahoben. Thanks. Jane Byrne was the mayor who engaged in that PR stunt.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — December 30, 2012 @ 7:41 pm

  3. If all goes to plan DC will be the national Hyde Park and we will live in a sprawling Cabrini-Green.

    Comment by pahoben — December 30, 2012 @ 8:49 pm

  4. When they talked about the Greening of the US i didnt make the connection they meant the Cabrini-Greening of the US.

    Comment by pahoben — December 30, 2012 @ 9:09 pm

  5. @pahoben. DC=The Gold Coast. Hyde Park would be slumming it. Can’t have our betters living in anything but the best.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — December 30, 2012 @ 9:11 pm

  6. @pahoben. I hadn’t thought about the Jane Byrne stunt in donkey years.

    She was only a mayor due to a fluke. The Big Snow of ’79 caused havoc. People blamed the incumbent, Mayor Bilandic, who had taken over when Richard I died. Byrne had been something of a joke candidate, but the fury over the city’s ineptitude in clearing the snow got her elected. Then began the years of politico-racial strife in Chicago. Council Wars. The Byrne-Daley II-Washington elections. Washington’s death, followed by the elevation of the hapless Eugene Sawyer, who almost fainted during the contentious city counsel meeting where he was chosen to succeed Washington. After that interregnum, Richard II became mayor, and their was a grand bargain where the spoils were shared more widely.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — December 30, 2012 @ 9:18 pm

  7. Chicago has been regressing noticably since Daley II left office and my family living there are saying that it’s falling apart. But a little perspective helps. Chicago is still, crimewise, in much better shape than it had been in, say, the 90’s when I last lived there. There are about 500 homicides this year, up from 433 last year and 436 the year before. But in 1992 there were 943 homicides, and the only year in the 90’s it was below 700 was 1999 (643). You mentioned the southward expansion of nice areas along the lakefront but forgot that large areas of the inland near west side (Wicker Park, Bucktown, Logan Square, even parts of Humboldt Park) have also gone upscale and stayed that way, although there are occasional shockingly violent spillovers in these newly-rich neighborhoods by people coming in from surrounding poorer areas to “hunt.” Ukrainian Village has expanded across Western. The nice areas of the north side have expanded and stabilized.

    Trivia: my father once lived across the street from a mafia leader in one of the suburbs; Byrne was a frequent guest at his neighbor’s.

    Comment by AP — December 30, 2012 @ 11:26 pm

  8. I’m back in the Chicago area after several years in SWP’s favorite city, Moscow. “Falling apart” is putting it too strongly. Rather, it’s become even more polarized than I remember it. The nice parts are really nice and continue to expand; the bad parts are among the worst and most hopeless in the country, and are rapidly depopulating. It’s almost as if Toronto and Detroit had been merged into one city. It must be embarrassing for the Chicago elite that New York, a much larger city, had fewer homicides than Chicago in 2012.

    For demographics junkies, here’s a great series of articles on the changes in Chicago over the last few decades:

    Comment by SWS — December 31, 2012 @ 1:00 pm

  9. @SWS. Welcome back. I agree. There is a widening divide between the upscale and the dystopian. Like I said in my post, it’s amazing to look at how the area south of Harrison Street near the lake has been transformed. But the places that were horrible in the 70s and 80s have become even worse.

    Murder rates have declined nationwide, but although Chicago’s has declined, it hasn’t kept pace.

    Your analogy of mashing together Toronto and Detroit is spot on.

    And the polarization issue is a strange one. Among the elite, there has been a convergence. In the pre-Daley II years, there was extreme hostility between the black and white political classes (esp. the Bridgeport and East Side types). As I alluded to in my post, Daley II essentially brought the elites together. Yeah, Valerie Jarrett et al had their run ins, but for the most part they found a condominium.

    And who was left out? The poor souls in the Detroit-esque parts of the city. They were sold out. Period. They are the ones on the other pole.

    Will read the article with interest. Thanks.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — December 31, 2012 @ 4:41 pm

  10. @SWS. Hyde Park and Near North are interesting examples. U of C started to build a firewall around HP in the 60s. Stepping across Cottage Grove, 63d, or 47th, put you in a different world. Like I said. As soon as I crossed Cottage Grove on 47th, there was blood on the street. SW corner-pretty nice. NE corner-literally blood in the streets. West of King Drive on 55th-war zone. I can’t believe how nuts I was to take the El from the 55th Street stop. At night. Young and feeling immortal, I guess.

    Near North-they tore down Cabrini Green to build that fire brake.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — December 31, 2012 @ 4:54 pm

  11. @SWS. Very interesting link. The depopulation of W. and S. Sides is quite fascinating. There’s a point that the author doesn’t emphasize, but I think is important. Out-migrants not selected at random. Those that departed for Fulton County, or wherever, were likely more skilled/able/motivated and less drug addled/criminal than those who didn’t. So it’s not just a matter of numbers, it’s a matter of composition of those numbers. The average of those left, in terms of education, skill, criminal records, motivation, etc., lower in 2010 than in 2000. This could explain why the decline in crime in Chicago was relatively small.

    Not a happy line of thought.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — December 31, 2012 @ 6:20 pm

  12. Another crime factor was the demolition of the huge housing projects. This seemed like a good thing at the time (removing “concentration of poverty”), but the result was that it spread gangs and criminals to places (often the suburbs) that had not had such problems before. It’s been theorized that the spike in homicides in 2012 was due to the fragmentation of the gangs caused by this policy.

    Comment by SWS — December 31, 2012 @ 6:51 pm

  13. @SWS. Unintended consequences strike again. Scattering the rats not always the best choice. It makes sense that disturbing the equilibrium in the turf war by dispersing gang members would lead to a spike in violence until the new equilibrium is achieved. An analogy that comes to mind is the barbarians that erupted into the Roman Empire. Most such eruptions were cause by new, more aggressive peoples (e.g., the Huns) pushing west, causing the displaced to move violently into the Empire.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — December 31, 2012 @ 7:03 pm

  14. @SWS – brilliantly put, Chicago is Toronto mixed with Detroit. Having family in all three cities and visiting frequently, I would say Chicago is much more interesting and beautiful architecturally than is Toronto, has a much nicer lakefront (wioth swimmable beaches right downtown), etc. Toronto has also declined lately – traffic for example has become much worse. Chicago’s traffic was once worse, but not anymore. I was only in the South Side outside Hyde Park once, and I would say that Detroit is even worse, although not by much. Detroit is more desolate – the South Side at least has some stores other than liquor stores, and life.

    @ Professor: “Those that departed for Fulton County, or wherever, were likely more skilled/able/motivated and less drug addled/criminal than those who didn’t.”

    Perhaps. However based on what I’ve seen among patients in an urban clinic here on the East coast, it seems rather common for young (black) guys who just got out of prison, or rehab, to move down South in order to be with relatives in order to “stay out of trouble.” Which is a good strategy, actually.

    Comment by AP — January 1, 2013 @ 1:43 am

  15. Oh – and happy New Year’s!

    Comment by AP — January 1, 2013 @ 1:43 am

  16. I live in Chi and moved into the city with kids. Of course, we sent them to private schools. I live in the Gold Coast. When I moved downtown in 2003, I looked at three neighborhoods, Lincoln Park, Gold Coast and the newly developed South Loop (which Tony Rezko helped build). I wound up in the Gold Coast because I didn’t want a house. Just sold my place, and now am going to rent in River North.

    I go all over the city. The West Loop used to be really rough, but one night I walked from the United Center to North Avenue beach and was “safe” the whole way. The neighborhoods of Andersonville (5200N), Lincoln Square, Bucktown, Ukrainian Village, around UIC, Lakeview (Wrigley Field), are also safe. Hyde Park is another world-an island in a cesspool of violence.

    My friend lives on the northwest side, and has raised his kids in the city, going to Chi Public Schools. They were able to get into the right schools, so their kids have had a decent education. It’s possible to have a normal life if you put yourself into the right school district etc. It’s not suburban-but when you choose to live in the city you are choosing a different lifestyle.

    What bugs me these days is that there is more street crime than there was. Gangs have started coming to Michigan Avenue and assaulting innocent people on the street-mass groups go into stores and steal everything, then get on the L and get away. In the spring they always take over the beaches until the cops push them out. There was a knife fight down the block from me two years ago between rival gang members-this is the Gold Coast-sort of like NYCs Upper East Side.

    The collar suburbs have indeed suffered. I used to play hoops in Maywood. Would never do that today. Cicero is rough. Evanston is pretty nice but has a couple of rougher areas. Forget about the south suburbs.

    Father Pfleger, Jesse Jackson rue guns. The real reason is because an armed populace starts to feel individual liberty. They can act for themselves. They don’t need to run and complain to Uncle Sugar to help them. Once they stop running to Uncle Sugar for their safety, what’s next?

    And yes, if I could find a way to make a living out of Chicago at this point, I would consider leaving. No opportunity for that though.

    Comment by Jeff — January 3, 2013 @ 3:57 am

  17. […] Sweet home Chicago. […]

    Pingback by Breakfast Links - Points and Figures | Points and Figures — January 3, 2013 @ 3:59 am

  18. @Jeff-thanks for your comments and good luck to you. You would certainly be welcome in Texas.

    Comment by pahoben — January 3, 2013 @ 7:34 am

  19. And the NY Times offers further support for my Toronto-Detroit thesis. Here’s an interactive map which breaks Chicago into two cities:

    Comment by SWS — January 3, 2013 @ 12:34 pm

  20. I lived in Logan Square in the late 90’s and felt totally safe there, even at night. We were near the Boulevard though – an island. Subsequent visits have seen this island expand and this part of Logan Square seems to have basically merged with Bucktown as “Toronto” has expanded. I looked at an apartment in Wicker Park, 5 blocks east of the Damen El station off Milwaukee Avenue. The apartment was newly rehabbed and gorgeous, but there was literally a boarded up crackhouse two buildings down. This has totally changed – it’s completely very upscale area now.

    Someone pulled a gun on me a block west of Western once (or it could have been a banana or other gun-shaped object in a black plastic bag) when I was getting in my car after picking up my 4 year from a friend’s grandmother’s place. That area now has been taken over by new immigrants from Ukraine, unable to afford rent on the eastern side of Western in the original Ukrainian village (where established Ukrainians, and non-Ukrainian yuppies, live). The off-the-boaters tend to retaliate if something happens to one of their own. That area is rather safe despite being officially the eastern part of Humboldt Park.

    Comment by AP — January 3, 2013 @ 1:00 pm

  21. Logan Square is the new “hip” neighborhood, taking on the role that Wicker Park/Bucktown had in the 90s. I’ve heard that Humboldt Park is slowly gentrifying around the edges, but I didn’t realize that it was Ukrainians who were doing it.

    Comment by SWS — January 3, 2013 @ 1:24 pm

  22. @ SWS – The Ukrainians have been filling in the area from adjacent Ukrainian village (basically crossing Western from their base between Chicago Avenue and Augusta). They ones doing this are mostly off-the-boaters. Many of them have a university education from back back home but generally are working construction, so they are not typical frontline “gentrifiers” (students, artists, gays, entry-level white collar professionals). I think most Humboldt Park gentrification is happening from a different dirrection – southward from Logan Square which I think is fairly gentrified by now – when I lived there in the late 90’s there were already a couple of cafes and my neighbors were almost all student/artist types. My father was kicking himself for selling the house in Logan Square he grew up in the 1980’s for probably 1/10 of what it is worth now. Now that I live on the east coast I only manage to visit Chicago once a year and am amazed by how the north/northwestern parts of the city are improving although as noted here, since Rahm came to power there has been some overall regression. My father, a suburban Republican, talks about how the city has fallen apart but seen in perspective it is still much better than it had been in the 90’s. I think the 2000s were Chicago’s Silver Age (the Golden Age being the late 19th/early 20th centuries) and I’m not yet sure that this period has ended, even if it’s slowing down.

    Comment by AP — January 3, 2013 @ 5:26 pm

  23. “the 2000s were Chicago’s Silver Age (the Golden Age being the late 19th/early 20th centuries”

    I agree with this. What made the Golden Age golden was the collection of architects, writers and entrepreneurs who were doing truly world-changing things. What’s happening now doesn’t have that kind of significance, although there’s still plenty of energy in the place.

    You may be interested in the writings of Aaron Renn (The Urbanophile) on “The State of Chicago”:

    Comment by SWS — January 3, 2013 @ 10:01 pm

  24. > Yes, many (and arguably most) of today’s murders in Chicago are also intramural in nature, one gangbanger killing another. But the current situation is more anarchic than in the ’20s, and the spillovers more pronounced.

    What else do you expect? We have exactly the same situation as in the ’20s. They had the alcohol Prohibition driving the crime and the murders, we have the Drug Wars. This insanity will continue as long as the “Republicrats” continue their stranglehold on our media and politics. Libertarians and other sane people don’t stand a chance.

    Comment by Vlad R — January 18, 2013 @ 11:45 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a comment

Powered by WordPress