City Works Less

Ideas and Issues Organizer Training

Lincoln Park
Lincoln Park

Chicago I have become fascinated – maybe obsessed – by mentally measuring the changes, small and perhaps significant, that are being imprinted by the current depression.  Being in an area in Chicago I have often and regularly visited near Fullerton and Clark near Lincoln Park let me note some shifts.  Chicago is still in some ways “a city that works,” as it once claimed, especially in these middle income neighborhoods by the Lake, but it sure works less than it did.

The Fredrick Law Olmstead designed parkways and gardens near the Lincoln Park zoo are a good but subtle canary in the mine shaft.  The Park District has long been a bastion of SEIU public sector strength, but the grass was overgrown and pushing into the flowerbeds, and the truck parked on the sidewalk preparing at dawn to deal with this was a subcontractor with a big “Inc.” at the end of their name, rather than the old reliable park service
workers.  The planting near the zoo is late this year.  The attractions are still free, so the city “works” better than many, but cutbacks are subtle.

There are boarded stores all over the intersection.  The New Balance and Urban Outfitters stores are still hanging in, but the corner location is having trouble.  It was once a fancy photography store then it became a phone store, and now, who knows what?  The French café and bakery is bordered up and the Lincoln Park bookstore is now long gone.  The Indian restaurant seems to be thriving and some of the Mexican places are still there, but not all.  The Caribou coffee is still doing brisk business it seems, and the old Chicago diner up the street is still holding firm.  The cranes that one seemed everywhere with hospital construction and upscale condos couldn’t be found this trip.

Compared to many areas of the country, this is a healthy report though there is a lot of fraying around the edges once one starts looking.  Young joggers are still well outfitted as they had for the Lakeshore to run, so much must still be right in their world compared to New Orleans where unemployed for the 20-30 set has skyrocketed.

It made me think early in morning before the Organizers’ Forum board and guests talked about the importance and practice of leadership development about a column I had scanned in The Guardian about the end of the “age of entitlement.” The writer was talking about the expense scandal in Parliament, but made a point almost offhandedly that asked somewhat rhetorically, “what does capitalism do without growth,” or something to that affect.

Having endured decades without equity where we were left with nothing but the hope that growth would achieve such gains that the trickle would be enough to float a lot of new boats, we are now stuck in the desertification of the economy.  There is a fight from Wall Street to wherever to hold onto entitlements rationalized during that period, but for the rest of us and the beleaguered cities where we live with increasing joblessness, small business dreams beached on even the best streets, we are going to see more and more cuts now into the very skeleton and bone that surrounds the shaky infrastructure where we live and try to work.