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Mini vs Mega Burbs

chicago dyke's picture

[Edit for clarity: i'm visiting Chicagoland this weekend, but I no longer live in IL, and when I did I lived in South Side Chicago proper. I currently live in a suburb of MI's capitol city of Lansing. Sorry for not making that more clear in the post.] I'm on the road this weekend, but I thought I'd post some thoughts I've had while spending a lot, and I do mean a lot of time in the car. I really wish I had the opportunity to travel more, because I'd like to get more support for this thesis with my own eyes.

I'm here in the very farthest outer 'burb of Chicago, way way down I-55. You may know, 55 is one of the freeways that lacks an attendant Metro line connecting this area with the city proper- and that's on purpose. Last night I spent an hour and a half driving just under 40 miles on this freeway in bumper to bumper traffic- at 8pm on a Friday night. When I lived in Chicago, driving horror stories like this were what kept me living in the city, always. I remember how annoyed I'd get the few times I'd travel out to the 'burbs for some reason, and how I'd always think, "what the fuck is wrong with these people?" in the sense that I could never understand why they didn't expand on the city and some of the more progressive 'burbs rail lines. Who in their right mind would want to spend 3-5 hours a day in the car on commute, and at these gas prices?

The answer is of course: racists, and stupid people who believe that by doing... something out here in the 'burbs, they'll somehow someday become very rich and be able to buy the Cubs, a loft downtown next to Oprah's place, and an even bigger ticky tacky McMansion but in a closer, more "elegant" subdivision. The same people who drive SUVs as big as a living room, and appointed with all the same comforts (why not, if one is going to be in it for 5 hrs a day?). The same people who refuse to admit that this is utterly unsustainable, or to see that what they've built out here is already falling apart. And they span for miles and miles, I'm always shocked by how huge these developments are.

It's strange. I complain about the condition of my home a lot, in the sense that I can see how a developer in the 60s cut some corners and I'm making up for that now in sweat equity. But despite my home's age (and I do live in a subdivision, more on that later), it's not coming apart at the seams. I can't say that for the ten year old home I'm in right now. And it's not my friend's fault or because of his laziness either. It's simply that these are the Wal-Mart version of "single family residences." Everything here was mass produced in a factory in Asia, out of the flimsiest of materials, under construction standards corrupted by lax oversight and abused undocumented labor... you get the drift. I know this isn't news to anyone here, but it's very, very obvious in this particular part of the American Dream(tm). All of this is going to come crashing down, and soon.

Snapshot of this post: while on the freeway in the middle of the slow traffic, I heard a gangster style car stereo booming. With country and western music.

I'm also dogsitting, so I had a chance to take the puppies around the block a few times. Always informative, that. The vacant houses that lack for sale signs, the few that do have for sale signs, and the signs of vacancy rushing up to meet homes barely being held on to by the current occupants. The banksters are trying very, very hard to maintain the illusion that this area is a 'vibrant' community, but in truth it's little more than a larger, more vulgar version of what used to be near-urban housing for the working class. In my father's day, people like this lived in 2 bedroom homes in the "white" part of town, and commuted a short distance to the factories, squeezing lots of kids, a big vegetable garden, and whatever else they could on medium sized lots. Today's working class folks, (for despite what official reports say, where I am at is not really "middle class" anymore if it ever once was) are forced to drive farther and for less pay, squeezed on every level for rents. Rent for the car, the home, the furniture that fills it, the gas, the insurances, the HOA conformity rules... all while priding themselves about the "low taxes that make suburban living so much better than the high-cost city life." This is me, rolling my eyes.

Anyway, I'm not telling you anything you don't already know, but I thought I'd contrast this place with where I live. Hoss and Joe are always pissing me off with their Superior Dense Urban Hipster Lifestyle posting, and that's because some of us are old and tired and really don't want the bustle of the dense urban life anymore. If I have to downsize to apartment living again, I'll do it with regret. So I often counter posts like that with reports from where I live, which seems to me like a sustainable compromise. The only problem with where I live is that it's been abandoned completely by TPTB and truly is and has been in a Depression for some time now. But... perhaps it is for that reason that it strikes such a strong comparison to where I'm at now, the last bastion of Midwestern liberal wealth and power. For despite the ring of heavily Republican suburbs, Democratic Chicago proper is and will always be the engine of the economy here.* The Republican suburbanites are sort of basically parasites on the body of Chicago, and the wealth Democratic policies have created there. 'Cause let's face it: ain't nobody gonna come out where I am at for "tourism." Goddess no, that's never going to happen. Especially given how utterly corporate-chain *everything* is here. I'm sure the Mob has put in a good restaurant or two somewhere out here, but the rest of it? Total Corporate Consumerist World.

Anyway, here's what I think works about where I live. We have great bus service. The 'burbs and city work together, and all the buses look the same and run on an integrated grid that services everywhere. There was a burst of McMansion development for a while in the early 00s, but that never really got going for the reasons mentioned above. The pattern of development in the middle part of the last century was mostly maintained, which is to say that most developments where I live abut a natural and undeveloped area of some kind. There are still prosperous farms near by. Walkability is stressed in most areas; although most folks drive and have cars, more and more people are walking and taking buses. That's probably due to spreading poverty, but still. There's also a pretty serious energy/environmental streak in our communities. The muni board meetings I've attended normally have either board members or citizens agitating for river clean up, more efficient lighting, monumental public art to encourage walking, home/lot ratio size restrictions/anti-"Bigfoot" requirements, wildlife preservation... I'm not saying I live in a progressive Utopia, but I do notice the difference when I visit a place like this. Everything about where I'm at this morningscreams "conservative conformity" and "fuck you, I got mine!"

So my thesis is that smaller is better, and communities working together is the only way to get to the future. Atrios wants to destroy all suburban communities like the one I'm in this morning, and I'll say to him this: don't bother. They'll collapse all on their own, and sooner than the people who live here think they will. But the communities that will thrive will be the ones that recognize that by working together with each other and with the urban center, they may have a chance to survive the coming collapse. The blatant hostility and willful "we're not like you people"-ness that drives this suburb will only lead to its faster demise, as will the insistence that a 'burb like this can somehow raise no revenue, commit to no common resource sharing and preservation, etc., is what is going to destroy these places. Because I can easily see a time when cities like Chicago will impose residence requirements for employers and employees, the better to raise and keep tax revenue that pays for the things there that make life possible. Suburbanites need the city, not the other way around.

*If Rahm becomes Mayor of Chicago, I expect everything good that Daley has been doing (greening city spaces, living wage requirements for employers, etc) to be undone, and fast. IMHO he's coming to Chicago for the specific purpose of destroy liberal and labor power there, so it can no longer influence the national scene. Just as the Shark finally came to Maui-Covenant**, so too have the Republicans finally come to Chicago.

**See Dan Simmon's "Hyperion Cantos." All Corrente should read that, for we are Siri.

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MsExPat's picture
Submitted by MsExPat on

I was a little bit confused though--you are living in a near-suburb, right? And housesitting this week in the pre-fab ex-urb?

I think you're right about the resilience and sustainability of the old middle class suburbs. In New York City, I suppose this would mean places like Riverdale to the north, Floral Park and the just-over the border parts of Long Island to the east.

Many of the old suburbs, like, oh, Montclair New Jersey, have walkable town centers. Of course these are the priciest and most desirable suburbs, out of reach now for a middle class family.

One of my pals is an urban planner, and she has a vision of the Interstate highway system being re-purposed for public transport, either by building parallel rail lines, or promoting the use of "Rail Busses"--basically that's a regular bus on a proprietary lane that stops at fixed points.

The suburb--and now ex-urb--driven U.S. model no longer works, if it ever did. The bankster-fueled bubble artificially juiced this dead end housing model. (Which as you point out, corporate America loves because they dominate all the services and shops out there. There is literally no space for small business in the mega-malls that serve the exurbs).

Submitted by jawbone on

class distinctions? Education levels? Income levels? Feeling one is not on the edge financially? We're going to need new terms, imho, with all these "fallen middle class" folks, especially those above 55 or so who may not get a decent job again.

But, ChiDy mentioned "working class," which, when I was growing up in WI, near Milwaukee, then an industrial manufacturing powerhosue, usually meant one had a union job, did physical, often skilled and highly skilled labor. Somehow, farmers were not included, in my mind at least, in the working class, possibly because they owed their farms. But union membership was not a requirement; hard physical work was usually part of being "working class."

Physical labor was considered as valid and worthwhile as mental labor. My college educated parents worked hard at maintaining their house, gardening on a scale i would not be able to manage, repairing and making do. Knowledge of how to do things was prized. The school janitor was respected and valued, as much as a plumber or electrician. The school janitor often had to know basic repair for both areas, along with keeping the school clean.

But, when I'd just finished my freshman year at UW in Madison, and was working a summer waitperson job, I have to admit to feeling somewhat superior to the adults working the same job full time. I mean I liked them, but did feel somehow my education and having won a scholarship made me somewhat "better."

Then, during a lunch break, a woman I'd thought didn't have many deep thoughts was telling about something she and her family had done. And she made an observation which struck me as so insightful, so profound, so moving (and which now, in my mid-60's I not longer recall the details of) that I actually blushed that I had thought she was not quite my "peer." In reality she wasn't; she was superior to me in life experiences and other areas.

I was 18 years old and had an epiphany which has informed my evaluations of people ever since. That experience took me back to the values I'd grown up with, but had been getting a bit too cocky to consider all the time.

Which brings me back to the "working class" term, which I guess has been abondoned as a label since everyone who works is "working." But it had a clear meaning which most understood at the time.

And now? How do we describe all these well-educated, even superlatively educated, people who can't get jobs or jobs which pay even near the median income, much less above it?

Lower middle class, based on income? What?

I still mentally cringe when pols always address their concerns about the "middle class." Just who do they mean? The vast numbers of American, earning just above poverty rates to lower six figures who say they're middle class? Who think that just because they're not in poverty level of income they're not poor? At just above the poverty level, they're often worse off as they get none of the benefits, but must meet all their bills on their own.

And whatever became of the "working class"? Is not using that term a means of denigrating or ignoring unionized workers? Demeaning physical labor?

Just rambling after reading ChiDy's mention of "working class." Now I have to finiish the dishes, then yard work, then I'll finish her essay....

Now, being black? I had been taught all my life to veiw all people as equal and to be respected. Yes, my father headed the school for orphaned and, as I got older, increasingly what were called "juvenile delinquent" boys.

Submitted by MontanaMaven on

I have been trying to have us come back to viewing ourselves as workers rather than employees for years. Well, since I joined the first Edwards campaign in 2004. Reagan and his propagandists began the assault on the phrase "working class" substituting "ownership society" in its place. Same time that "Personnel Dept" became "Human Resources" and John Q Public became Joe Six Pack.

I had the same experience growing up near Chicago. I had friends whose fathers worked in the potato chip factory or the Sara Lee factory. They owned garbage companies and they worked for the garbage companies (Later to become Waste Management). The lawyers and bankers always had a certain prestige, but they always called my Dad when something broke. My dad could fix anything. He was a school administrator. Yes, our janitor didn't get paid much less than the teachers.

I'm now married to a rancher and there is this weird superiority because you "own" land. But we don't really. The bank owns some of it. He does hard physical labor in birthing calves and fixing machinery. But he's his own boss and sets his own hours, so he's content to not make any money. When I met him I told him that I thought he had more in common with people who worked in factories than he did with the bankers. He doesn't get to set his own price for his cattle, so he really is working for somebody else. He just doesn't have regular hours.

In Germany they still respect their skilled workers. Bu here we let them outsource our machinists jobs and other skilled labor. What a scam "a college education" is now. Go to a charter school so you can get a degree in salesmanship and being a good drone. Instead we should have good technical high schools. Unions should run community colleges where when you are laid off, you go and improve skills in your field. I think they do this in Denmark. Unemployment is not looked down on. It's a chance to go to school until you get another job. (Predator State by James Galbraith).

And the gal that does my nails is easily as smart as I am.

Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.
Groucho Marx

Submitted by JuliaWilliams on

Somthing more than one political analyst has mentioned is the absolute screwing of our language, and therefore, our response, to political concepts. "Working class/middle class", "ownership society", "entitlements","death panels", 'death tax", "welfare state", "war on terror", these are but a few of the terms promulgated by political operatives, and now used by everyone in the MCM, and thus have now entrenched themselves in our language, and our way of thought (language shapes thinking) It behooves everyone that is still uncaptured by the great monster of propaganda to refuse to use these, and other terms. I, for one, call out these terms at every political meeting, political statement I make, and I encourage others not to buy into the definition of our discourse advertised by the PTB.

Time for Real Change

DCblogger's picture
Submitted by DCblogger on

not so, at least not in the Greater Wash DC area. Back in the days when I still volunteered for the Dems and did door to door work, I can attest that there are no all white neighborhoods in Virginia DC suburbs. Even in the priciest neighborhoods.

I think that city life is so demonized in the American psyche, that no one ever considers the upside of city life. That and the fact that suburban schools are far and away better than city schools, even in the poorest part of suburban VA.

Submitted by MontanaMaven on

Far Southwest side. It was rural with a small city center. We had to drive to the train for the 45 minute trip to downtown Chicago at Christmas to lunch at Marshall Fields. I thought it was the best of both worlds. But then the suburb overtook the farms and the sprawl began, "The Geography of Nowhere" and "Anytown, USA."

Such a gigantic mistake to invent these exurbs with no way in or out but a car and no center. After college I lived in NYC for 15 years in bliss. When transferred to LA, I just couldn't adjust to a city that had no city. So off to Montana and living in a small town like the one I grew up in. Alas, there is no train to Marshall Field's.

Like Los Angeles, I have drive everywhere here in the country . In the city, there is an abundance of serendipity. You are walking down the street and you see something in a window, you stop and go in. You meet a friend by chance and have a cup of coffee.
There is no serendipity in LA. If you see something interesting, it takes forever to find a parking spot, so the moment is gone. In the country, you can pull over and take a closer look at that eagle on the wing. A different sort of serendipity. But alas, no lunch under the tree at Marshall Fields.

Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.
Groucho Marx

chicago dyke's picture
Submitted by chicago dyke on

good points and questions. let me try to do this in a couple of responses.

msExP: i edited the post for clarity. sorry, i just sort of assume everyone knows my history, after blogging about myself for so long. rural MI-->wealthy suburban detroit-->ann arbor-->marine corps/quantico-->chicago-->DC-->central MI. sometimes i get sloppy, my bad. and your pal is right about converting freeways to train lines. it's the obvious answer and we should be doing that right now, and employing millions and restarting the economy in the process. trains don't just put construction workers to work, they make entrepreneurship and small business a thriving possibility for millions who can't quite make it in an established big city. i'm not pulling that out of my ass, i was told this by a researcher/academic who specializes on the matter. i can't quite remember all the reasons why he told me, but it was something like "small business struggle with supply and transportation issues, but can overcome at least some of that when there is cheap, reliable public transportation that avails them of a wider potential market."

Submitted by JuliaWilliams on

ebb and flow of commuters and travelers, who are concentrated at stations/stops. (which is the driver of the spike in real estate values along mass transit lines). And don't forget the wonderful by-product of efficient mass transit (especially if it's green), the reduction of pollution, and the transition (!) towards a more sustainable economy and lifestyle!

Time for Real Change

wuming's picture
Submitted by wuming on

Definitely. If you ever spend time in Tokyo, you'll see that some of the private rail lines actually have significant retail components. For example, the Seibu Railway also owns malls and shopping centers that are major rail stations.

MsExPat's picture
Submitted by MsExPat on

Were all built at once, in a coordinated plan. The government sold the land for the housing projects and the shopping to pay for the construction of the rails. That's how the expansion of Hong Kong into the New Territories (the "ex-urbs") was handled.

The public transport network in Hong Kong is probably the best in the world. I'm not kidding. Light rail, underground rail, all completely coordinated with busses, mini-busses and ferries.

Okay, the "New Towns" in Hong Kong's suburbs are rather soulless clusters of high rises with malls at the podiums--but that could have been handled differently and better. Unfortunately the Hong Kong government had the right general concept, but they lack imagination and understanding about quality of life issues.

chicago dyke's picture
Submitted by chicago dyke on

altho i could wax on about the cultural implications too.

underclass: people making less via taxable wages/social safety net programs than it takes to survive in even their impoverished circumstances, participating in the "underground/black" economy to supplement what they are getting, mostly off the radar of liberal policy makers and most targeted group of the neofacists/security state.

working class: in plain language, "poor." paycheck to paycheck types, for whom one medical or job related disaster would put them into the underclass, possibly forever. education doesn't matter here; i know plenty of working class PhDs, yo.

middle class: making enough to have a savings and/or retirement fund, pay for part or all of their children's educations, maintain a mortgage, take a vacation or two every year. but they fly coach, not first class.

upper class: making enough to have a second home, a large retirement fund compared to the previous groups, regular vacations, no problem financing private college for their kids who are mostly guaranteed to get in one, truly 'cadillac' health care plans.

overclass: our masters. so much money they live in a different world, literally (dubai, private planes, citizenship means nothing to them, they don't bother to vote instead they buy politicians and tell them what to do, etc).

as a member of the working class, i understand exactly what you mean an applaud your younger self for being able to see that woman for what she really was. that happened to me too, when i was a server in college.

Submitted by jawbone on

working class people made more, some less, but they had dependable jobs. Now, some manufacturing industries had layoffs, but they tended to be somewhat predictable and money was put by for those times, etc. (The best layoff times were for summer vacation and then in fall for hunting season....)

The poor who are working, of course, today are called the "working poor,' right?

They also get little mention from our pols nowadays.

Now, there had to be a diligent effort made to not mention people who were in deep poverty, since RFK's trip to Applachia was a major revelation to many people back in the day.

BDBlue's picture
Submitted by BDBlue on

Schools are a big factor, in my experience, with the suburban growth. The close in suburbs are then too expensive for a lot of people, so working class people end up in the outer 'burbs. I'm sure there's some white flight, too, but a lot of it isn't that because, as dcblogger noted, not everyone who flees to the 'burbs is white. The Inland Empire in California had a lot of hispanic families, looking to try to buy a house and get their kids into decent schools. I think Elizabeth Warren was the one who made the point that the desire for schools - not big houses - is what drove the housing bubble. People were willing to take on so much debt, in part, because they thought their kids would have a better life.

I think that's the pull of the 'burbs generally. In addition to schools, there's also the promise of having a yard for the kids to play in and probably (although not always) lower crime rates.

Of course, the kids never get to see their parents because they're too busy driving back and forth, but the desire to have what middle class people used to have - a house, a yard, decent schools - is pretty much hardwired into the American psyche at this point. It's just so often the realty doesn't match the dream - the houses are cheaply built, the schools aren't necessarily that much better, and the parents spend their life in the car.

As for trains, there were a lot of midwestern cities that basically died once trains were replaced by planes. People just flew over them.

"Do what you feel in your heart to be right -- for you'll be criticized anyway. You'll be damned if you do, and damned if you don't. " - Eleanor Roosevelt

chicago dyke's picture
Submitted by chicago dyke on

let me be more precise:

1. chicago city proper is still incredibly segregated. you can literally perceive this as you cross a single road which separates on one side "the black neighborhood" from "the white neighborhood" or "the latin neighborhood" on the other side. obviously no neighborhood is 100% made up of only one race, but in some places? it's damn close.

2. again, the burbs are a lot like that here. there are "integrated" burbs, which basically means some Middle Eastern and South Asian and middle class american black folks are living in them, but those are the closer and more liberal burbs. where i'm at, um... can i tell you about the megachurch that's just down the road? they have a big display on their lawn right now, about the "holocaust" of abortion of (white) babies. no, this is where the crackers are, trust me. other burbs around chicago are different in various ways.

3. even given all that, it's fascinating to me that what is going on here is that everyone is desperately pretending or trying to be, essentially, Ozzie and Harriet. even the people of color! my mother and i had lunch in the city yesterday and we were talking about this. she pointed out to me that a sign of "decay" in these areas will be seeing foreclosed homes in this area being bought by successful families of color who want to leave the city and try suburban life, and she's not wrong. the few families of color in this subdivision are exactly that, according to my friend who lives here.

4. there's a white kid with a xtian themed tee-shirt shooting a pretend gun at a target i can't see but am guessing has some relation to all things liberal in the yard across from me, right now. yes, it's scary for me to be here. when i first moved to Chicago, a local black woman friend of mine told me flat out: "let me educate you about the neighborhoods you cannot go, no matter how light skinned you may be. you risk your life by doing so, if you do." it's... different here than in VA, which these days, i miss a lot. northern segregation and race hatred is an under-discussed topic.

DCblogger's picture
Submitted by DCblogger on

again, the burbs are a lot like that here. there are "integrated" burbs, which basically means some Middle Eastern and South Asian and middle class american black folks are living in them, but those are the closer and more liberal burbs

actually the outer burbs, because of lower housing prices, also have mixed neighborhoods. There is a Hindu Temple in the southern part of Fairfax County, miles south of the beltway. There is a Mosque on the very western tip of Fairfax and another one in Loundon. In fact, I think that Fairfax has more Mosques than any other jurisdiction, including Dearborn.

But is not all foreign born. There are many American born black people who live in the far burbs. Of course, given Virginia's past as a slave state, there is no part of Virginia that has not had black people living in it.

I have long thought that Chicago was one of the most segregated places in the world.

Dick Gregory said that in the south whites don't care how close blacks get, only how big they get, and in the north it wasn't how big a black got, but how close they got. I think there is a lot too that.

Schools drive suburban real estate values. The suburbs are of the middle class, by the middle class and for the middle class. That is why you see fewer sports stadiums in the burbs and more recreation centers.

gizzardboy's picture
Submitted by gizzardboy on

"But alas, no lunch under the tree at Marshall Fields."

Sorry MontanaMaven, but even if there were a train, there is no more Marshall Fields. Much to the sorrow of Chicago people I know, it is now Macy's.

Submitted by MontanaMaven on

My point exactly.

Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.
Groucho Marx

chicago dyke's picture
Submitted by chicago dyke on

I have been trying to have us come back to viewing ourselves as workers rather than employees for years. Well, since I joined the first Edwards campaign in 2004. Reagan and his propagandists began the assault on the phrase "working class" substituting "ownership society" in its place. Same time that "Personnel Dept" became "Human Resources" and John Q Public became Joe Six Pack.

thank you for that, that's wonderful.

and to owning your land? heh, that's an illusion in these times, innit? as you said, the bank "also" owns your land, and given how often they've Been Caught Stealin of late, i guess you can't even be sure you really do "own" even the part you've paid for, can you?

i grok your personal journey, a lot. central MI is not like MT, but i know why i'm reluctant to leave it, now, after being Urban Fabulous in several towns for several decades. meh, to me that's lifestyle for the young, but of course ymmv.

chicago dyke's picture
Submitted by chicago dyke on

the backups on the freeways here? all about the hot spots/ freeway connections/parking lots near trains, etc. that's why it's so obvious good public transit is what is needed here. people would drive so much less, if they could only have a true 'park n ride' option within a short distance from communities like these.

chicago dyke's picture
Submitted by chicago dyke on

is to turn off the TV. (not suggesting you have that problem, babe) but yes: people who watch a lot of TV or consume SCLM are indoctrinated to use those terms. because they work for the purpose they're intended to (getting people to emotionally react and then vote against their own interests).

wuming, would you care to elaborate on your point? are rail company-owned stores a good or bad thing in japan, in your opinion?

wuming's picture
Submitted by wuming on

I actually don't watch that much TV, although I catch some shows online

I do think the rail company owned stores are good in the sense that they encourage people to use transit, and make life much more convenient. Tokyo is basically all about convenience. Encouraging people to use transit saves energy, which is good.

However, Tokyo is one of the most consumerist cultures in the world, which may not be a good thing. The rail station department stores encourage consumption, as does the heavy advertising presence in the rail cars:

This picture is actually kind of tame, because the last time I was in Tokyo in 2008, one of the subway lines had started selling advertising space on subway straps. Advertisers would hang small ads from each subway strap in the car.

Submitted by JuliaWilliams on

in every facet of my campaign, whether from "questionnaires", or at meetings and speaking events, or from face-to-face encounters with citizens. It is a constant struggle to first, re-define the issue according to the facts vs the propaganda, and then deliver my views on the answer to the problem. This makes the campaigning much harder, and more complicated than it should be, but that's a feature, not a bug, of the MCM

Time for Real Change

Tony Wikrent's picture
Submitted by Tony Wikrent on

Sorry, I'm on the road still, though down in NC, closer to home. But I think it is extremely important that CD and others understand what the economic base of Chicago is, since CD describes Chi-town as "the last bastion of Midwestern liberal wealth and power."

The futures markets.

That's what took over the City in the 1980s on. The Chicago Board Options Exchange, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, and the Chicago Board of Trade. Measured in nominal terms (i.e., underlying value of derivative contracts), there's multiples more money flowing through Chicago as a financial center than New York City.

It's harder to quantify actual money.

Back about two years ago, I uploaded most of what is now the Wikipedia page on "Financialization." Part of what I wrote:

(Beginning in mid-1993, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange itself began to release figures of the nominal value of contracts traded at the CME each month. In November 1993, the CME boasted it had set a new monthly record of 13.466 million contracts traded, representing a dollar value of $8.8 trillion. By late 1994, this monthly value had doubled. On. Jan. 3, 1995, the CME boasted that its total volume for 1994 had jumped 54%, to 226.3 million contracts traded, worth nearly $200 trillion. Soon thereafter, the CME ceased to provide a figure for the dollar value of contracts traded.)

There's a great pic I created on that page, which shows how future trading shifted from agricultural commodities to financial contracts and currencies. I'm not sure the html will tranfer here, but I'll tryFutures Trading Composition.jpg

Hank Paulson was posted with Goldman Sachs' Chicago office. Rahm Emanuel is probably in extremely tight with the rentiers whose wealth is based on the Chicago futures markets.

One of the key demands of the populist movements of the late 1800s was the total prohibition of futures trading nationally.

Instead, we ended up prohibiting beer.

MsExPat's picture
Submitted by MsExPat on

Fascinating. I didn't know about the rise (and financialization) of the CME. I assumed they were still trading corn and sorghum futures. And I didn't know there was a Paulson/GS Chicago connection.

Where is Obama in this picture? Did his campaign seed money come from CME/Chicago GS sources? Maybe, Tony, you could write a post about the Chicago power landscape sometime.

Tony Wikrent's picture
Submitted by Tony Wikrent on

I was born and raised there, in a close suburb (if you walked out the front door of my family's house, turned right, walked down four houses, then crossed the street, you were in Chicago proper). So I have no idea of who is who in Chicago politics now, even though I was a community organizer for two years before I left. I still visit my brother in the Chicago area twice a year when I pass through doing my book selling road trips. So, I've seen how most cities and towns in America have fallen into worse and worse states of decay. Chicago is an exception; the City's infrastructure, and the signs of small (non-chain) retail business health, have improved noticeably since the 1980s. I have no solid analytical basis on which to assert that the money flowing through the futures and options markets are the cause, but I think it's a safe enough assumption, based on knowing how the futures markets have come to account for an ever larger share of total financial trading, and how total financial trading has come to dominate the entire national economy (as I show in the table I prepared for the Wikipedia page on financialization, from 1.5 times GDP in 1960, to over 51 (fifty one) times GDP in 2000).

In 1989, I switched from community organizing, to researching and writing on political economy for the small, now defunct, organization I was with. I did my initial work on the volume of financial trading in that capacity.

Submitted by lambert on

Thanks to all!!

First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win. -- Mahatma Gandhi

Aeryl's picture
Submitted by Aeryl on

That:

"So my thesis is that smaller is better, and communities working together is the only way to get to the future...But the communities that will thrive will be the ones that recognize that by working together with each other and with the urban center,

That, and the death of the nuclear family. Those old subdivisions collapse, and perhaps room can be made to create some truly sustainable housing, and if we didn't insist on living in family units of only two adults and minimal children*, we could use that space more wisely.

My partner and I, share our home with my bff, a gay man a few years my senior. We've all lived together at various points in our friendship, so when he needed a place to stay after some mad drama, the Sailor and I invited him in, and I'll never look back. Not only is our situation more financially tenable, but our home is homier, and not just because of the fabulousness my friend brings with him. He adores my daughter, is as involved in her life as her dad and I are, and we divide responsibilities and obligations amongst ourselves, as a family, all with one common goal.

This little experiment is working so well, we are considering our expanding our household to include another gay man. This home could be further out from the close in established subdivision we live in now, for a more rural setting, so there are downsides. But I think this restructuring, somewhat forced on us by a bad economy, could lead to better things.

He who will not reason is a bigot; he who cannot is a fool; and he who dares not is a slave.
- Sir William Drummond

chicago dyke's picture
Submitted by chicago dyke on

when i am done taking care of my actual blood family, i intend to open my home to members of my gay family. i might even adopt a gay pre-teen, or invite an online aging gay friend to live here. "family" is what you make it. i think the fact that i don't have children is why i understand that better than some others wedded to the notion of "a home is for a traditional nuclear family." i'm not.

Aeryl's picture
Submitted by Aeryl on

To not have much blood family, from either my side or my partner's, and my gay bff has very little that's accepting and local. So I don't have to wait on that. And my mother already knows that if it comes to a situation where I have to take care of her, she's moving in w/me and my fag menagerie, so I don't have to worry bout that either.

He who will not reason is a bigot; he who cannot is a fool; and he who dares not is a slave.
- Sir William Drummond