The U.S. Census Bureau verified a piece of Mayor Richard M. Daley’s legacy when it announced that Chicago attracted more residents to its downtown that any other city in the 2000s.
Between 2000 and 2010, a net 48,00 people moved into the area within two miles of City Hall, according to the U.S. Census Bureau's Patterns of Metropolitan and Micropolitan Population Change: 2000 to 2010 report. That was more than New York (net 37,422), Philadelphia (net 20,769), Salt Lake City (net 19,712) and Washington, D.C. (net 19,502).
As mayor, Daley cultivated downtown -- at the expense of the rest of the city, his critics said. Daley often used Tax Increment Financing districts, which were designed to help blighted neighborhoods, to pay for projects that gentrified the central city, such as tearing down a Greektown homeless shelter to build a condominium.
Daley considered downtown the city’s front door, and cared more than his father about the city’s image to outsiders, said Gery Chico, who was the mayor’s chief of staff in the 1980s. His patronage workers scrubbed graffiti off walls, tore down thousands of empty buildings, and towed abandoned cars. He planted pots of flowers on sidewalks and pedestrian overpasses, and surrounded parks with black wrought-iron fences.
Chico, who became wealthy as a lobbyist after leaving City Hall, moved into a million-dollar condo in the Metropolitan Tower, which had once housed the offices of Encyclopedia Britannica. As a lawyer, he helped convert the Illinois Bell building to condominiums. Chico remembered when the Loop was nothing but block after dreary block of wig shops and Italian beef stands.
“When I was a kid working here in the late ’70s, this town closed up at five,” he said. “I mean, there was nothing down here. Maybe a few movie theaters. But the streets were cleared and the place was empty. Today, I live downtown. Along with 56,000 other people and a lot of executives who find it very convenient to be in the central area.”
Richard C. Longworth was a Tribune reporter who in 1980 wrote an obituary for Chicago entitled “City on the Brink.” “There is no reason to think [Chicago] will ever turn around,” he predicted. But in the 1990s, Longworth began noticing changes in his downtown apartment building. When he’d moved in, only adults lived there. Then, families began arriving. By the end of the decade, “you’d go to parties and hear anecdotal stories about this great school.”
On the other hand, Longworth wrote in his book Caught in the Middle: America’s Heartland in the Age of Globalism, “the old housing projects lying in the path of the Loop’s expansion are knocked down and their inhabitants scattered to the civic winds. These are the global have-nots, separated by class and education as much as by race from any of the benefits of a global economy.”
Despite downtown’s gains, Chicago lost 200,000 residents in the last decade, many of them poor folks displaced from public housing. So while Chicago’s front door looks better than ever, the rest of the city has been rotting.