Monday, May 21, 2012

Dear NATO visitors: there is another Chicago

Posted By on 05.21.12 at 11:04 AM

Mayor Emanuel says he wants to help visitors understand Chicago.
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  • Mayor Emanuel says he wants to help visitors understand Chicago
I knew Chicago was a great city, but I didn't realize just how great until I saw the video prepared by our NATO Host Committee for our international visitors.

The ten-minute film features a series of business leaders and other civic boosters blustering on about our town: "I love the attitude here, it's just a positive attitude, a good vibe—anything's possible." "It's vibrant, at the same time it's very serene." "Michigan Avenue is so attractive from beginning to end." "We have some of the best chefs in the world . . . many Michelin-rated restaurants." "We've got great people, great talent . . . a business culture, and people with a great can-do attitude." "It is a great place to find the kind of people that fit into a corporate culture." "You can walk down the street in Chicago and ask anybody for directions, and they're happy to give it to you with a smile on their face." "There's opportunity here, somewhere, all the time."

Our Windy City title is not in jeopardy.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel opens the film by declaring Chicago "the most livable big city in America."

But what does "livable" mean, I wondered? And where is Chicago so remarkably livable? Lawndale? Austin? Garfield Park? West Garfield Park? Englewood? West Englewood? Chicago Lawn? New City? Grand Boulevard? Washington Park? Fuller Park? Greater Grand Crossing? West Woodlawn? Auburn Gresham? Roseland? Avalon Park? Burnside? Calumet Heights? West Pullman? Riverdale?

Ah, but the video of the most livable city ignores these neighborhoods, which happen to be home to most of the livable city's 888,000 African-Americans, and few of its 1.2 million whites.

The film is being played regularly at McCormick Place and in hotels where NATO delegates and foreign reporters are staying; a shorter version is playing in taxis and on monitors at O'Hare and Midway. Emanuel said the video "will help visitors from around the globe understand, explore, and enjoy Chicago's world-class restaurants, state-of-the-art museums and vibrant and diverse communities."

I'm guessing more visitors have been exploring the world-class restaurants than Englewood and Burnside.

Dear NATO visitors: there's something you should know about Chicago besides what the video tells you. We are two cities. One is white, or white and Latino, and livable; the other is black, disproportionately poor, and beset by the problems that go hand-in-hand with concentrated urban poverty—crime, joblessness, wretched schools with high dropout rates, miserable health, abandoned and dilapidated homes. We care so deeply about this inequity that it's been this way for only a hundred years now. But anything's possible in Chicago, and with our great can-do attitude we'll surely straighten it out in another century or so.

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