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Leaning Towards a Warmer Climate

back of hollywood sign

Taping up the balcony doors and running home with last-minute supplies in advance of today’s high of ten degrees below zero gave me a lot of cause to consider our potential move to Los Angeles. I’d be lying if I said that watching the mercury sit at -13 degrees for a (frozen) solid 24 hours didn’t have anything to do with it. If there’s one thing that Chicagoans dream of, it’s a warmer climate. (We gave up on dreaming about the Cubs in the World Series long ago.)

In Chicago, weather always has a lot to do with it. Along with obnoxious Arctic vortices, after eleven years I’ve had my fill of ark-inducing supercell thunderstorms, summers you could time with a stopwatch, and the occasional headlong flight from an oncoming tornadic wall cloud. Not that I didn’t make peace with Chicago weather when I got here eleven years ago. Potentially freezing or flying through the air are the reasons why rents stay low, after all.

The problem is, very often so do our incomes. There are some things in life that, like Miley Cyrus on the VMAs, can’t be forgotten once you’ve seen them. It took me years to accept the view of Chicago as a less-than-wealthy city that friends like urbanist blogger Aaron Renn and controversial strangers like Rachel Steir have famously written about.

The gist of their (and many others’) argument is that Chicago doesn’t have a large, permanent wealth-creation engine like its peer world cities on the coasts. New York has global finance. Los Angeles has global entertainment. Chicago has hog futures. But Chicago’s political, business, and foundation leaders have done such a great PR job of spinning the Second City into a world city by dint of red herring projects like LED streetlights, green roofs, and Divvy, that the real story doesn’t get taken as seriously as it should.

Part of that real story is a cash-poor city that can’t afford to staff its police force adequately, keep all of its schools open, or fund its own visitors bureau (it was privatized when Rahm Emanuel took office), nor consider long-term solvency without attempting to rent out or sell-off public assets like parking meters and airports.

As I wrote last month, that real story also includes earnings–especially in the nonprofit and consulting sectors–that are significantly below compensation levels in major cities on the east and west coasts. Chad and Trixie may live large on trader wealth in their million-dollar Wicker Park McMansion, but that’s just not the experience of most rank-and-file Chicagoans.

What I didn’t write last month is what many of us here know but rarely talk about. That is, as my mother would unabashedly put it, shit floats. We simply don’t have a culture of excellence in Chicago. The workplace here is rigid and role-based. Being very good at what you do will not get you ahead in this city as quickly as being mediocre. Truly innovative Chicagoans learn to keep quiet about it, because innovation is the enemy of a rigid workplace.

And that explains why half of this town is always and incessantly complaining about some completely incompetent  idiot who almost destroyed the company but ended up getting promoted to V.P.

Genug, already. I’ve loved on this city for a decade, but culture is culture and only changes if and when it wants to. Personally, I’ve been here long enough to believe this city will never change. The haves are too busy being thankful for being haves. And the have nots are too busy being had by a corrupt political system designed to keep them not having.

Yes, that’s harsh. But no one who lives here will say it isn’t true.

I’m 43. I’m good at what I do. I am an awesome writer and storyteller. I can strategize a brand, place a national story, or lay out a city block, and still have time left over to build a personal blogging empire. That doesn’t sell in Chicago. But it does elsewhere. That’s why so much Chicago talent resides instead in New York, and D.C., and Boston, and San Francisco.

And Los Angeles, too. For one, it’s warm. (Today’s high in L.A.? Eighty-eight degrees higher than ten below.) For another, there is a huge, guaranteed wealth engine there that at the very least makes it likely that your nonprofit employer or consulting client isn’t choosing between paying you or paying their electric bill.

Innovation and talent and creativity are actively encouraged there. It’s got one of the largest and best public transit systems in the nation. (The people who say it doesn’t are the people who never use it.) And it’s got a larger Jewish population than Chicago.

I’ve never been the kind of native New Yorker who turns his nose up at other cities because they’re not exactly like New York. I’ve always liked Los Angeles. It’s geographically stunning. Much like Chicago, people are friendly and easygoing. I’ve always thought L.A. gets a bad rap from New Yorkers–and from so many others–not because they don’t like the place, but because they’re stupendously jealous of it.

Yes L.A. has enormous problems that challenge and weigh upon those who live there. It is not, in fact, paradise. But you know what? That’s basically a description of every city anywhere.

Besides, Disneyland is in the next county. And I’d be lying if I said that didn’t have anything to do with it either.

So if I go, when I go, I know where I’m going. I left New York because I was running away from the past. Chicago’s given me a lot of opportunity to grow emotionally, and spiritually, and professionally. It’s been a great eleven years. But I can’t shake the feeling that Los Angeles may hold my future.

Or that living an hour’s drive from Anaheim may be worth making a 1,700 mile move.

Categories: Los Angeles

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Mike Doyle

I’m an #OpenlyAutistic gay, Hispanic, urbanist, Disney World fan, New York native, politically independent, Jewish blogger in Chicago. I believe in social justice, big cities, and public transit. I write words and raise money for nonprofits. I’ve written this blog since 2005. And counting...

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11 replies

  1. I’m disappointed that Chicago did not work out for you. The politics of the city indeed is a set back — every now and then i wonder, if it cuts half of its corruption, and adopts the “culture of excellence” what the city can actually become. It’s a frightening (in a good way) vision.

    It’s potential is enormous. Until the corruption, like its death rates, decline, Chicago will never ever ever reach half of its potential. It’s not sinking, it’s just floating – not really going anywhere. And talk is cheap (like made in China cheap) so the Mayor and its politicians can talk in order to boost their egos, all the while being delusional, yet their policies say “We’re taking the easy way out. Tax you here. Tax you there.” That type of attitude bleeds into the fabric of the city, to every day life. It bleeds into the work place where the best don’t get raises and don’t get the promotions; where the people who control the wages won’t muster up the balls to make wages competitive compared to the coats; where certain industries won’t think of ways that keep and attract talent and brains.

    Chicago is great. That’s a fact. But it could really own that “world city” designation, like REALLY own it, if it just got its head out of its a** and lives up – even half way – to its potential.

    Then again, the politics of Chicago is also on display in DC (and world wide).

  2. We simply don’t have a culture of excellence in Chicago.

    That could be a reason. Or it could simply be the result of evisceration of manufacturing, the collapse of unionized workplaces, a corrupt Democratic machine that has never met a public service it couldn’t make a quick buck on, and all that compounded by white flight. The danger in claiming that Chicago doesn’t have a “culture of excellence” (whatever that is) is that it continues to perpetuate the solidly American myth of meritocracy, that somehow, somewhere in America you can strike it rich by being “innovative” and “creative” as opposed to recognizing power dynamics between employer and employed.

    As someone who recently moved to Milwaukee from South Carolina, I am literally getting paid 50% more than I was down there, in a field that in the Midwest until recently was heavily unionized. While unions have seen major setbacks here in Milwaukee and Wisconsin in general, that threat has pushed up wages here for years while my previous employer never had to deal with that at all. I don’t think Milwaukee has better people than South Carolina, but it sure has a far stronger history of extracting wealth from management and translating it into real gains for employees.

    Simply saying that every city has problems ignores substantial structural and real differences in managing those problems, and ascribes cities success or failure to some vague concept of culture. No one in their right mind would tell a person of color that their culture is the reason for their failure, yet many urbanists quickly ascribe to whole swaths of city from Gary, Indiana to Cleveland, Ohio that their “culture” is the reason why they’re failing. That’s simply bumpkis, and allows terrible and real policies and inequalities to linger for no other reason than we believe that certain people deserve them.

    1. I blame the culture on the politics and political structure. I’m not really sure what your point is. You seem to blame the culture on the people who left, for causing it, but not on the people who stay and perpetuate it. Then you say culture isn’t an issue at all and it’s no one’s fault. Except for people who don’t support unions. And you also assume that Chicago suffered white flight and is longer a massively diverse city (much less one that suffered quite a lot of black flight in recent years due to the housing bust and public housing “transformation.”) Which matters because culture matters. Except culture doesn’t matter because saying all cities have their problems is meaningless. Except Chicago, and your home state. And Milwaukee.

      Our commonality is that you did what I may do–that is, move across the country for better economic opportunity. It doesn’t sound like you’re happy you did that. I’d be interested to know what you think your reasons were for moving to Milwaukee. I also have a suspicion my post probably hit a little to close to your own reasons, and maybe you didn’t really like your reasons.

      1. I moved across for a relationship actually, and I’m in no way unsatisfied with my decision to do so nor by the fact that I am economically better for it. But getting back to the point of culture; your argument is that LA “recognizes” a culture of “excellence” which from your comment implies monetary and financial compensation, which certainly can be one way of looking at excellence. But even if we take that as being the same as excellence, is that actually true? At no juncture have you provided evidence that social mobility is higher in Los Angeles, or that there is a connection between “excellence” and higher earnings, more job opportunities/security, or a better quality of life. If anything, continued academic research distinctly shows that there is only a loose connection at best between one’s personal achievements and one’s financial or career success. Most of the time it is an accident of birth.

        What you have stated however is that you prefer LA, for a variety of justifiable reasons, but none of these are any real objective measure of anything outside of the fact that you (anecdotally) feel your specific skillset would be greater appreciated in LA. Which it certainly may be. But that doesn’t make Chicago somehow a city where shit floats to the top and LA an innovation leader. If we’re going to have serious conversations about models of urbanism and which directions cities should head in, which should stop talking in vague pronouncements such as “excellence” and actually use real, hard numbers.

        1. Oh, I get it. You’re trolling. The whole “your personal opinion doesn’t gibe with academic research” was a helpful hint. When you actually have something to say about Chicago or Los Angeles–for example, actually having been in one of those two places–let me know. Thanks for playing.

          1. [Ed. Note: Anarchist troll alert. (I Google my trolls.)]

            Amazing. Since evidently you didn’t want to actually engage in facts I did it for you: And lo and behold! Social mobility IS higher in LA than in Chicago in absolute terms, though not in comparison WITHIN a city. That is not necessarily surprising considering the likelihood of overall wealth and the ability to hand it down in a place like LA versus Chicago. So there you go.

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