Chicago continues to lose residents and Houston is coming up fast. A sociologist is cited as saying the population decrease is not that bad:
Christine Percheski, an associate professor of sociology at Northwestern University, cautioned that while it is significant to note that Chicago is losing people, “this does not necessarily reflect the health or the functioning of the city.”
An array of complicated factors are at play in population numbers, including changes to mortality, fertility and immigration rates, she noted.
I believe Percheski is right: the relatively small population loss in Chicago plus the city’s ability to avoid the larger population losses experienced by many Rust Belt cities means this is not a huge deal. Of course, getting passed by Houston in population will matter (though Toronto passing Chicago barely registered).
But, will residents and leaders ever be convinced that a lack of growth is not bad? Because growth is good and this argument is rarely challenged, population stagnation or loss set off an alarm bell. Why exactly this is the case is a bit harder to articulate but it likely involves a loss of status and a suggestion that the city has limited momentum heading into the future.
At this point, the United States does not have good models of cities and communities that have stalled out in population or even declined that are widely regarded as successful places. Chicago could be one of these models and perhaps it could work because it is so big and so storied. On the other hand, if Chicago has small population loss for decades, this adds up and will require Chicago leaders to work harder and harder to convince residents and businesses that the long-term story is not bad.