That Toddlin’ Town
By Patrick F. Cannon
I did a quick calculation and found I have lived in Chicago and environs for roughly 65 years. I was not born here, but in a now sad town near Pittsburgh named Braddock, after the British general who managed to lose a battle in the vicinity in what we call the French and Indian Wars (George Washington was also present; he had better luck next time). Braddock the town became a poster boy for Rust Belt decline, so it lost a battle of its own.
My family moved to Chicago when I was in the second grade; we moved back to the Pittsburgh area when I was in the seventh grade. I returned to Chicago when I was 18 and have been in the area ever since, except for two years in the Army and a bit less than that in Minnesota as a result of the job transfer. In Chicago itself, I have lived in South Shore, Rogers Park, Logan Square and the near Southwest Side. I have also lived in Glenview, Oak Park (for 42 years altogether) and now, Forest Park. In my travels, if someone asks me where I live, I say the “Chicago area.”
I say that because neither Oak Park nor Glenview (or Hinsdale or Winnetka for that matter) would exist were it not for Chicago. They drink Chicago water (treated in the two largest water treatment plants in the world, which serve over 8 million people); their sewage is treated in a system originally designed to stop dumping sewage in Lake Michigan; and they fly in and out of the area from Chicago-built and operated airports. Hundreds of thousands of them also board commuter trains every morning that run on tracks that linked Chicago to the rest of the country, making it, as it still is, the railroad center of the United States.
Chicago commodity markets – even though the famous open outcry trading is largely gone – still set the prices for just about everything America and much of the rest of the world eats. And increasingly, Chicago’s location and amenities have made it a location of choice for corporate headquarters.
People in the suburbs who “never go into the city” and see no reason why they should deprive themselves of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, one of the top three in the world; the Art Institute of Chicago, America’s second largest art museum; and other world class museums like the Field Museum of Natural History, the Adler Planetarium, the Shedd Aquarium and the Museum of Science and Industry. Worse yet, they deprive their children of the opportunities to broaden their education and their minds.
Now, the suburbs do have opportunities for excellent musical theatre (the Paramount in Aurora is a fine example), but not on the scale that is always available in the city. Again, with a few exceptions, there is very little serious theatre in the suburbs; in the city, you could go to the theatre every week of the year and never exhaust the possibilities. Among others, the Goodman and Steppenwolf theatres have national reputations, and regularly send their productions to Broadway.
Chicago, of course, has its problems. It is still grappling with the consequences of decades of forced segregation, and of financial mismanagement by the city and state governments. When they can, African-Americans are fleeing the city to seek better housing and education for their children. Those that can’t are forced to live with crime and substandard housing. Large areas of the south and west sides consist of empty land and abandoned buildings. Even so, there are hopeful stirrings. Chicago already has, for example, six of the top ten high schools in Illinois; and overall test scores have improved for all public schools. While much more needs to be done, new housing is being built with units set aside for lower-income families. And the construction of hotels, office buildings and high-end apartment buildings is at an all-time high.
Because of its location and other advantages, Chicago never fully declined like Detroit and Cleveland. It supports – sometimes with illogical loyalty – two major league baseball teams, a storied NFL franchise and occasionally successful basketball and hockey teams. Depending on who last built an addition, it rotates with Las Vegas for the honor of the world’s largest convention center. And it almost certainly has the most beautiful and useful waterfront in the United States.
For these and other reasons, it would be well for those suburbanites who drink Chicago water, but “never go into the city,” to keep in mind that their safe and charming communities would not even exist were it not for Chicago. Literally.
Copyright 2018, Patrick F. Cannon