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The World Thinks Chicago Is a World City, So Why Don’t Most Chicagoans Think So, Too?

Here’s me in a nutshell: lifelong New Yorker who moved to Chicago two years ago after 33 years in NYC. Moved from a city where no one bothers to compare their city to anywhere else (well, except favorably) to a city where such comparisons are made every day, every way, by everyone, and usually made with New York City.

So here’s the thing. Personally I think New York City and Chicago both stand favorable comparison against each other, neither being perfect and each having advantages over the other (you know the drill: you can order a pizza at 3 am in New York, you can take the L to the airport in Chicago, yada yada ad infinitum).

What kills me is this. New Yorkers know they have a universally recognized good thing and feel totally secure about it. Chicagoans also know they have a universally recognized good thing. But they feel like they have to justify it all the time.

Besides the fact that due to their self-assuredness about their city New Yorkers won’t be listening to see if boasts, brags, or legitimate rationalizations are emerging from Chicago (or from anywhere else, for that matter), I think this propensity for Chicagoans to constantly and often unwittingly enter into, for want of a better term, pissing contests about the city makes the city look to outsiders like it really is in some way less of a real city than New York.

If I had a nickel for every time one of my Chicago friends started a sentence with, “Ok, so it’s not New York, but…” I would be able to do early retirement in Portugal by now. I just don’t get why, given the level of pride and swagger in Chicago about Chicago–and most of it realisitically grounded–there still exists this urge in the municipal psyche to hold itself up to any other World City standard but its own. Not for nothing, but the real mark of a World City is that you get to set your own standard. I don’t know why Chicagoans are afraid of doing that, they have every right and it’s the only thing that makes the city NOT feel like a World City.

Londoners get it, Parisians get it, Lisboetas get it, New Yorkers get it, Montrealers get it, Paulistas get it, Angelinos get it, so why don’t Chicagoans get it? Midwestern politesse? Lack of experience of other World Cities? The old NYC-Chicago rivalry being too ingrained in the group subconscious? The horror of the municipally declining bad old days being too close in memory? The lack of a real political consciousness in the city? The feeling that Daley gets it, so that’s good enough? The lack of good day-tripping options??? Perhaps even (God forbid) the notion that many Chicagoans really do feel like New York City is in some way the better city?

If you’re reading this and you’re from Chicago, raise your hand if you’ve ever boasted about Chicago. Now keep your hand raised if you’ve ever boasted about Chicago while not at the same time comparing it to New York. I just heard a loud thud as most of your hands returned to your desktops. Post a comment. Tell me why?

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Michael Thaddeus Doyle

I'm a NYC-native, Latino, Jew-by-choice, hardcore WDW fan in Chicago with an Irish last name. I believe in social justice, big cities, and public transit. I do nonprofit development. I've written this blog since 2005. Believe in the world you want to live in.

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Contact: mikedoyleblogger@gmail.com

3 replies

  1. Considering that every time I step outside my office building downtown I trip over a million international tourists (asian, german, french, spanish, arabian, etc.) I’d say Chicago is in the mind of average people across the world. Further, when I’ve traveled abroad and get to chatting with locals, they are always delighted to hear I’m from Chicago and say they’d really like to visit. Or how about the Irish girl at the bar down the street from my house, who tells me its a rite of passage in Ireland and England to take a summer in Chicago. As for Chicago being a cultural icon, I think there’s plenty of national media attention in Chicago, what with big budget movies always being shot here (Michael Bay just had the pleasure of blowing up most of Michigan avenue and Wacker drive), etc. Maybe Chicagoans don’t like to brag (its a midwest thing), and would rather just show you and you make up your mind.

    As for new york, never been there, but i’m sure its lovely.

  2. one reason – media.

    Americans, and people of the world, are fed hundreds of images a day of new york. Either it’s the nightly news, movies, pop culture, commercials, magazine or newspaper articles, or novels. How many images of Chicago does the media beam?

    Hardly any, because of Chicago’s sore lacking of international media presence. Until Chicago is a daily thing in the media, this will always be the case. In a way, Chicagoans DO have to boast or justify their city thanks to the media’s obsession with NYC and LA, and to an extend now, Vegas.

    This is purely Chicago’s fault. I think it is somewhat world class, but until you are a cultural icon, I would have to say you aren’t world class. As of now, Chicago is just an icon of the midwest.

    Sure it ranks up there as one of the top 10 economic power house cities, but in the minds of average people across the world, who thinks of Chicago? And if they do, what do they know besides Michael Jordan, Al Capone, and maybe, maybe the Sears Tower?

    1. You’re right! Chicago’s poor performance is it’s own fault. For some reason it refuses to have its own media sector. One that will tell Chicago & The Great Lake States story. Sadly, Chicago would rather hire a bunch of New Yorkers or Angelinos to speak for it. Until Chicago learns to create it’s own trends and speak for itself. It will never be a true Global City. This is coming from a South Side, Chicagoan. One born and raised. The only people who boast about Chicago are mostly North Siders and Central-Loopers. They think they’re in Manhattan or Hollywood. Except they forget Manhattan and Hollywood have celebrities and are iconic locations people care actually about. It’s to bad Chicago rather hire NYC and LA media companies. Because, that means people would never see how beautiful this city & the great lakes truly are.

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