Your City Sucks: Chicago Edition, pt. 1
The “Windy City,” named for the hot air its notoriously corrupt politicians spew, should not surprise as the inaugural installment of YCS. Chicago is an annual fixture on Forbes’ “Most Miserable Cities” list and has won other dubious honors such as “Most Stressed Out City in America.” But knowing Chicagoans, if they were aware of such recognition, which most assuredly are not, residents would simply wear that recognition as a badge of honor—one more marker of their “toughness.” A toughness that is earned every winter as the city finds new and sadistic ways to combine multiple forms of precipitation with cold and wind.
Because if there’s one thing that Chicago is, it’s tough. And the city’s residents want you to know all about it. This jarring affliction—the city’s residents wanting you to know all about it—is aptly dubbed “Chicago Pride” and is endemic to the metro area. If for instance, you, being a visitor (read: foreigner), should mention in passing that a bit of traffic delayed your drive in another city, prepare yourself for a lengthy diatribe regarding Chicago’s traffic and how it’s the worst in the nation and how those “douches” in L.A. don’t know anything about traffic or about driving.
This phenomenon, this strain of “pride” is applied to everything—both good and bad. Traffic, corruption, injustice, athletic ineptitude, ignorance, et al. are all proudly considered part of the Chicago way. Ever sensitive to criticism, the aforementioned may only be discussed by Chicagoans and only then if endemic corruption, municipal inefficiency, and urban decay are spoken of with the blind reverence of a dead-eyed cultist. This pride thus informs the conversation of every Chicagoan and leads to such brilliant justifications as, “Sure Mayor Daley was corrupt to the point of outright thievery, but at least he got the streets plowed.”
And mind you, snow plowing is a major concern in a city that boasts state of the art public transit…circa 1923. The Chicago Transit Authority is just about equipped to handle as many people as were living in the city during the 1893 World’s Fair—the one during which a madman named H.H. Holmes kidnapped and murdered dozens of people under the unsuspecting noses of Chicagoans. So, despite living in “the city” you pretty much need a car (some would argue defeating the purpose of urban living) if you’re going to get anywhere worth going. Which means, just about everyone else has a car too and wants to go wherever you’re going whenever you go.
Spend much time talking to a Chicagoan and you’ll learn to dismiss much of what is said as pure hyperbole. But one thing they do say that’s true is that Chicago has just two seasons: “winter and road construction.” And if they’re right about anything, it’s that, because with budget cuts prompting the CTA to trim train and bus schedules even further, residents not living within shouting distance of their employer are forced to drive. Which is how Chicago regularly earns its place on lists of the country’s worst commutes. Rush hour lane closures are par for the course. As you sit idling on the Kennedy “Expressway” you’ll typically see three to four dozen highway workers in various states of recline on various pieces of machinery that are verily not being used.
But where do all those cars go when not in use? That’s a fine question, and if you know the answer, the City of Chicago would greatly appreciate your help in this matter, because as of now the City has no fucking clue. Which is why parking in Chicago has become a sort of arcane game the Aldermen 1devised with an Ouija board and some tea leaves. To park one’s car near his apartment, one must first navigate an arcane labyrinth of regulations, permits, baseball games and street cleaning days. And even then you’ll probably still get a ticket, because you didn’t see that speck of red or yellow paint on the curb leftover from the last time the city put down street markings—sometime in the early eighties.
Of course any mention of parking in Chicago is incomplete without mention of then Mayor Richard Daley’s 2008 lease of Chicago parking meters to private investors in 2008. Right before dancing his way out of office, Daley sold the rights to Chicago’s parking for the next 75 years for 1.6 billion dollars to help shore up the budget deficit he saddled the city with during his 22 years in office. Even then, analysts sharply noted that 1.6 billion was a weak offer for the 75 year lease, and suggested that the rights were worth at least 5 billion dollars.
Interestingly enough, four years after that deal was done, it is now estimated that the Morgan Stanley led investor group holding Chicago’s parking rights can expect to make at least 11.6 billion dollars off of the deal—ten times what Daley sold the meters for. With a flair for high comedy, Daley took a position with the same company that he negotiated the meters deal with. And in an act befitting Chicago’s flagship collegiate institution, UIC appointed Daley a “distinguished fellow” for the next half decade. All of which is just a very complicated way of saying: it’ll cost you $6.50 to park for an hour in downtown Chicago (compared to $2.50 in Manhattan).
Sure, every city is going to have issues with parking. It’s a function of putting lot’s of people into a confined space. Of course with most cities, usually when your car is not in them you don’t run the risk of accruing parking tickets like AOL cds in the 1990s. Most cities are not Chicago though, as Mark Geinosky found out a few years ago when he received 24 parking tickets at locations throughout Chicago that he’d never been to. Fraudulent tickets, dereliction of duties, harassing an honest citizen? Par for the course for CPD, and literally no one was surprised when the officers accused were acquitted, because “somebody else must’ve found used our ticket books.” Right.
The old cliche about “who will police the police?” That ought to be the theme song of every Chicago resident with even an ounce of pigment in their skin. Chicago’s police force has long been doing their best to make the film Serpico look like an episode of the Andy Griffith Show. Comprehending the breadth and depth of CPD corruption is a daunting task, but a good place to start is with torture, coercion, and disappearing evidence. And then of course there are the hundreds of CPD officers collecting disability payments for dubious slips and falls. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Except for Florida no state other than Illinois has exonerated as many death row inmates as Illinois has (20). An annoying thing called evidence keeps proving Illinois prisoners’ innocence at an alarming rate, something the CPD didn’t count on the past few decades as they put away innocent men after coercing confessions. In 2011, Gov. Quinn recognizing the abysmal state of Illinois justice system, finally banned the death penalty. Which as an Illinois governor, is probably a smart play given the state’s penchant for electing men only to have to put in prison for one reason or another after their term (see governors: Ryan, Blagojevich, Walker, Kerner Jr.).
The mob used to be big in Chicago. Emphasis on used to (and its residents love to remind of you the fact). Eliot Ness and the Untouchables, the FBI, the gov’t, etc. they didn’t clean up mafia corruption so much as Chicago forced the mob out, or at the very least left the private grifters and racketeers with crumbs. See, Illinois has more government than any other state in the nation. The state boasts over 7,000 units of government, which is thousands more than the next state. By the time the average citizen is done paying for parking permits, municipal fees, mosquito abatement districts, fraudulent pensioners, fire districts, sanitation districts, waterway districts, et. al there just isn’t that much leftover for private thugs to steal. All those public “services” are why Chicagoans face one of the three highest tax burdens in the entire country behind only Detroit and Philadelphia (take that New York!). Taken altogether, the above is why Chicago is now the most corrupt city in the entire country.
Mix equal parts Tammany Hall level corruption and a city-wide inferiority complex and you have the start of the recipe for Forbes‘ sixth most miserable city of 2012. 2 See, Chicago is perpetually confused about whether to embrace its rustic origins, or desperately clutch at some way to be relevant in a world that increasingly devalues a stockyard town that no longer produce goods, innovation, art, or thought of any note. 3 Unlike the rust belt cities that Chicago is sure to join in the gutter in coming decades, the city prefers to think of itself as more than a blue collar town despite being surrounded by a blue collar state which is surrounded by more blue collar states. Chicago is keen to position itself as the cosmopolitan capital of the Midwest, but the rest of the country just isn’t buying it. Even worse, the farmers in Ames remain unimpressed and alienated feeling that the Windy City is perpetually “puttin’ on airs.” And that identity crisis, that quasi siege mentality is crucial to understanding the cultural confusion responsible for the general unpleasantness of most Chicagoans. It’s not their fault, really, they can’t help it—they live in Chicago—a place whose constant striving earns it only condescending nods from the East, while the effort drives a wedge between the city and its corn belt neighbors.
Coming next week, Part II: Chicago’s “culture,” the people who suffer through it, and the reason why Enrico Fermi conducted the first Manhattan project nuclear reactions under Chicago instead of New York (hint: if something went wrong, at least it went wrong in Chicago. People love NYC).
- No one knows what particular purpose these public officials were actually meant to serve. What is known is that there are 55 of them and they have somehow inserted themselves into every layer of city politics and are generally corrupt and despicable people. Case in point, only five aldermen voted against Mayor Daley’s 2008 parking meter firesale. ↩
- Forbes’ recipe included: “violent crime, unemployment rates, foreclosures, taxes (income and property), home prices and political corruption” among others ↩
- see desperate bid for Olympics, 2016 iteration ↩