The legacy of Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago as a global city

After weighing the highs and lows of Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel’s eight years in office, a Chicago Tribune editorial ends with this:

Because in the end, Mayor Emanuel kept his word. He pushed Chicago to keep moving, to shuffle forward, to improve its rank as a global city.

Not many big-city mayors can say that.

Two quick thoughts on how this conclusion feeds ongoing narratives about cities and Chicago:

  1. “Keep moving” and “improve” are linked to the idea of continuous city growth. Chicago may be slowly losing residents – or at least losing ground to faster-growing cities close in population like Toronto and Houston – but Emanuel helped stem the tide. Imagine this legacy: Mayor Emanuel could not increase Chicago’s population but think how much worse it would have been without all those new buildings downtown and in wealthy neighborhoods!
  2. Emanuel himself had a goal of keeping Chicago as a major global city. Indeed, it is. But, Chicago also has a lingering fear that it is not considered a global city, particularly compared to places like New York City. The population loss is likely part of this but so may be a location in the Midwest away from the exciting coasts. Again, for Emanuel’s long-term legacy: Chicago stayed in the top 50 of global cities!

Finally, all of this conversation makes it sound as if the mayor was the only one with influence in the city. The mayor of Chicago may always have an outsized influence – I’m reminded of former mayor Richard M. Daley’s visit to campus in 2011. This big man theory of history covers up a lot of other processes, including the work (or rubber-stamping?) of the City Council, the flow of global capital into Chicago, the influence of developers and wealthy business leaders, and numerous changes taking place within disadvantaged neighborhoods.

Chicago named top metro area for business location

For the second straight year, Site Selection picked the Chicago metropolitan area as its top metro of the year:

In fact, 385 companies either expanded or located in Chicago in 2014, resulting in the city being named Site Selection’s Top Metro in the US for the second straight year. The consecutive wins are a pleasant endorsement, says Jeff Malehorn, president and CEO of World Business Chicago…

Chicago’s appeal is hardly surprising. The city’s boasts outstanding transportation and logistical assets, including two international airports, a rail hub and seaport, and stands at the crossroads of major Interstates. Chicago and the region are home to a wealth of talent educated at some of the nation’s premier colleges and universities. Foreign companies looking for a US home are drawn to the city’s diverse ethnic population. “Any company outside the US can look to Chicago and see a home,” says Malehorn.

Project highlights for Chicago in 2014 include:

  • Valence Health — a health services company based in Chicago adding 500 jobs over the next five years;
  • Yelp — the online review and advertising site based in San Francisco, Calif., is opening an office in Chicago and plans to hire 300 employees;
  • Braintree — the global payments platform expanded into a 65,000-sq.-ft. (6,000-sq.-m.) headquarters on the eighth floor of the Merchandise Mart. The company is adding 360 new jobs by 2017.
  • ADM — the food services company opened its new global headquarters in downtown Chicago in August 2014…

In figures released in January, Chicago posted its lowest unemployment rate since April 2008, 6.2 percent. The number of city residents employed in December 2014 increased by more than 38,000. The jobs were mostly attributed to professional and business services, education and health service and transportation and warehousing. Malehorn says diversity is a theme in Chicago’s growth, but so is innovation and disruption.

I wonder how the city’s critics would respond. Even with a perilous budget, state issues, Chicago corruption, and cold weather, Chicago continues to be a desirable site for business. They might say that this all happens in spite of the problems..but how would we know? Regardless, this is another piece of evidence that Chicago deserves its lofty ranking among the top global cities in the world.

Nice graphic on Chicago’s relative position as a global city

The cover story in today’s Chicago Tribune on Chicago’s status as a global city includes a nice graphic showing how Chicago matches up on a variety of dimensions.

This sort of multi-dimensional graphic is becoming more common. Its biggest advantage is that it can display a lot of information across a variety of dimensions. This graphic shows 10 different aspects of being a global city. It is also relatively easy to compare ranks of cities, if you know what you are looking at – the further out the area or the more area a city covers on the graphic means a higher ranking. Of course, the biggest downside is that is takes a little bit of time to figure out how to read it. Is a city better if it is closer to the middle or further away on each dimension? (It is is better to be further out – higher ranking cities cover more area.) It can also be a lot to take in at once.

It is a nice addition to add the seven comparison cities at the bottom with Chicago’s mass overlaid on each diagram. Just having Chicago’s rankings graphed would provide some information but do so without any context.