Why the Mayor's Race Will Highlight a Second Chicago

“For too long I’ve seen two cities in Chicago,” Rep. Danny Davis said this weekend, during a fund-raiser at a West Side community center. “One city is prospering and vibrant; the other, poor and struggling.”

One of the consequences of this open mayoral election is that we’re finally going to hear from that other Chicago, whose interests have mostly been ignored during Mayor Daley’s years in office. A New York Times columnist once wrote, admiringly, that “no American city has changed more in the last 20 years in Chicago.”

That’s true, but it’s also true that the progress has been confined to certain parts of town, roughly the area east of Kedzie Avenue and north of Roosevelt Road. That’s the gleaming Chicago that the characters of My Boys inhabit, that gets written up in GQ for serving the best pizza in America, that serves as a setting for Vince Vaughn comedies about young professionals in love. The rest of the country imagines that every Chicagoan sits in the bleachers at Wrigley Field and eats at Topolobampo.

That’s understandable, but there are also people in the lakefront neighborhoods who think that their lives represent the typical Chicago experience. They don’t need to leave Lake View to see a ball game or a concert, or find a good restaurant. As a result, they’ve become so insular they think of Austin as the site of the SXSW Conference, Riverdale as the home of Archie Andrews, and of the East Side as … isn’t the east side of Chicago in the lake? This election will be a chance for prosperous Chicagoans to learn more about their poorer neighbors.

According the U.S. Census Bureau, the average household income at North and Western is $119,563 -- a 38 percent increase since 2000. Just two miles to the west, at North and Pulaski, it is $20,367 -- a 46 percent drop. Rahm Emanuel will be the candidate of the “prosperous and vibrant” Chicago. Whoever makes the runoff against him will represent the “poor and struggling” Chicago. Davis, who represents the West Side, already has plans to bring more money to his part of town.

“There has not been the balanced attention,” Davis told the Sun-Times. “You have to give credit for the development of downtown Chicago, Near South, Near West, Near North. But you get out into some of the neighborhoods and you see the vacant land. North Lawndale, you’ll see land vacant since Dr. King was assassinated. I believe in a concept called ‘linked development’: As you develop things downtown, that you balance that development by making sure you find a way to do the same thing in the Englewoods and the Lawndales.”

That may never happen. But it’s about time the two Chicagos finally have a conversation.

Buy this book! Ward Room blogger Edward McClelland's book, Young Mr. Obama: Chicago and the Making of a Black President , is available Amazon. Young Mr. Obama includes reporting on President Obama's earliest days in the Windy City, covering how a presumptuous young man transformed himself into presidential material. Buy it now!

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