Chicago population loss among challenges for new Chicago mayor

As Chicago votes today, the Chicago Tribune pointed out the issues the new mayor faces, including a declining population and financial issues:

The U.S. Census Bureau gave Chicago a reality check last week. New data showed the city lost 200,000 residents in the last decade, a 6.9 percent decline. Chicago’s lost more than the entire population of Illinois’ second largest city, Aurora.

A Mexican immigration wave that fueled growth in the 1990s has subsided. Researchers expected those immigrants to bring more growth as they had children. Instead, immigrants are moving from Chicago to the suburbs or bypassing the city entirely. That 1990s influx looks like the exception to a long and steady rule. Chicago has lost population in five of the last six decades. It has fewer people now than it did in 1920.

The city government faces a yawning debt and unfunded pension obligations. It is spending beyond its means. A city that has fewer citizens has fewer potential wage-earners available to support it.

This is a big set of issues to face. But the Tribune seems to be fairly optimistic:

The good news: Chicago is far better positioned for the future than it was during its wrenching Rust Belt days of 1980. The city’s economy is more diverse, and its urban environment richer in the amenities that attract a talented work force, from parks to culture. As corporate headquarters scaled down across the country, Chicago became a global center for back-office operations and business services such as corporate law firms. Its central location and status as a transportation hub give it a crucial advantage going forward. That’s why we need to get the expansion of O’Hare International Airport back on track, pronto.

The city will need some new ideas as well as dealing with existing projects. This airport expansion idea has been in the works for years now and is a move that could bring in new business and opportunities.

And I wonder with an election like this, where there is no incumbent and we seem to have a cleaner break with the past, whether the new mayor really has to introduce massive projects or ideas at the start. Perhaps the first goal could be to improve how Chicagoans and those in the region feel about and view their city. For example, take a look at the crime rate: it has dropped and yet there is perception problem. A dose of optimism, trumpeting what is good about the city rather than what is going wrong, could be a good starting point. And then, something has to be done with the larger issues that the Tribune enumerates.

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