Rahm Emanuel says Chicago is “the most American city”

In announcing that a prestigious conference will be held next year in Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel made an interesting statement about the city:

Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced today that Chicago will host the 12th World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates this spring…

The event is expected to attract high profile leaders from around the globe. All former Nobel Peace Laureates will be invited to attend. It will be co-chaired by former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and Walter Veltroni, the former mayor of Rome. Emanuel will serve as an honorary co-chair.

This event “has been held in Paris, it’s been held in Berlin, it’s been held in Rome,” Emanuel said. “And they picked, in my view the most American city in America, Chicago.”

Chicago was chosen “due to its rich heritage and international profile,” organizers said Thursday.

What exactly makes Chicago “the most American city”? Several reasons come to mind:

1. Chicago came to prominence during the late 1800s as Americans were expanding to the West Coast, the railroad became really important, and America became a larger player on the world stage. In these changes, Chicago helped lead the way as a major port connecting the Great Lakes to the Mississippi and becoming the railroad hub of the nation. Chicago was the boomtown of this era, growing from just over 112,000 people in 1860 to nearly 1.7 million in 1900.

1a. In comparison, the older cities of the Northeast, Boston, New York City, and Philadelphia are too dependent on the colonial era.

1b. However, one could make the case that Los Angeles (or maybe even Houston) is the quintessential American city of the 20th century with a rise of the suburbs, highways, culture industries, and a population shift to Sunbelt and West Coast. At the same time these things were happening, Chicago was also changing: its suburbs have continued to grow (and also experienced growth in high-tech/white collar jobs) even as the city has experienced the Rust Belt problems of white flight and the loss of manufacturing jobs.

2. Chicago embodies some of the best and worse of America. It’s skyline is beautiful and it features miles of parks along Lake Michigan. The downtown and Michigan Avenue area is relatively clean and full of tourists. Chicago is a prominent world city because of its finance industry. On the flipside, Chicago is well known for its segregation (bringing MLK to the city in 1966), corrupt politics, and crime/gangsters.

3. Chicago is middle America, not the more educated or stylish East or West Coast. It embodies American values of hard work and grittiness alongside success and entrepreneurship.

A side note: it will be a busy spring in Chicago with the G-8 and NATO meeting in Chicago not too long after this Nobel gathering.

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