Chicago: swamp to global city.

Taking this class, I knew I would be exposed to the history of this “foreign” city and many things I simply never noticed. I call it foreign, because I truly never thought of the Midwest, growing up in Texas, and I certainly did not expect to attend college here. So when I learned Chicago was once a putrid swamp, I was amazed! Hard to believe, isn’t it?

I laughed as we read about it and discussed it in class. I thought, “how [U.S.] American of us.” We competed with the British and the French for this swampy, cold land. We let the Native Americans take us there, so we could claim it for ourselves.

I’d like to focus on how we made Chicago happen. Chicago didn’t have many attributes, but it did have one powerful enough to make three countries swoon: it could connect the East to the Mississippi. This passageway wasn’t actually desirable. It wasn’t a beautiful, flowing river welcoming us to pass on by to the Mississippi. It was a portage, always changing with the seasons. Travelers would have to carry supplies and the boat they traveled in, until they reached deeper water.

But that didn’t stop us, it didn’t stop the founders of “The City with Broad Shoulders”.

Today, Chicago is ranked 7th in A.T. Kearney’s Global Cities 2015 and 9th in a report from the Economist Intelligence Unit Hot spots 2025: Benchmarking competitiveness the future of cities. Amazing how we built up a city from swamp, to a muddy town, to a polluted cow town, to a revived city, and now a Global City.

Richard Florida is an American urban studies theorist who focuses on social and economic theories. He defines, “today’s three major classes [as] the shrinking middle [class] of blue-collar workers; the rising ranks of the knowledge, professional, and creative class; and the even larger and faster-growing ranks of lower-paid, service workers [class]”. Three classes to sum up our cities: the service class, the working class, and the creative class. Based on his definitions, it is hard to give a strict explanation of the creative class. However, I think by process-of-elimination through the service and working classes, you can get an idea of who is in the creative class.

The service class are workers who do routine labor for low wages. Richard gives the examples “food service and preparation, retail sales, and clerical and administrative positions” and claims this class is the largest of the three in Chicago.

The working class are workers who wear uniformed service shirts, sometimes literally blue-collared. Richard says they are employed in jobs like, “factory jobs as well as transportation and construction”. According to him, “The City of Big Shoulders” is losing their once prized class.

So, what is the creative class? I did say process of elimination. However, I’m sure it is easy to find workers who could fit in two class types. Through his definition, the creative class are “people who work in science and technology, business and management, arts, culture, media, and entertainment, law, and healthcare professions”. This class doesn’t leave much out, right?

Now that we have simply defined our elaborate, complex city into just three types of workers, what does it take for us to become a Global City? Richard would tell you a successful city needs three things, the three T’s to success: Technology, Talent, and Tolerance.

You may be reading this thinking, “Duh!” You wouldn’t be wrong either. However, many cities that get left behind, like Detroit, were left behind because they focused on industry. Richard Florida would say something like they didn’t invest in talent or technology. Why would a creative class person go to Detroit?

There is the answer. How does Chicago maintain or improve its global ranking? Bring in the creative class! The creative class needs technology, so a city should have many quality universities to study and improve technology. Chicago is home to so many universities. There is plenty of opportunity here to study and grow in this city!

The city will need jobs to employ these creative people. What is truly important, is that the creative class needs to be welcomed and comfortable in your city. That is why tolerance is one of the three T’s to success. Creative people aren’t always conventional- and they shouldn’t be.

Once the creative class is established in your city, they will offer the service class jobs. Creative class people are active in the economy, which is beneficial to the city, but also means the city needs music centers, restaurants, and other places service class can work.

Richard Florida may have the trick to retaining and inviting citizens to your city, but if only U.S. citizens are investing in your city, is it a global city? The Hot Spots 2025 study, “assessed 32 indicators across eight thematic categories: economic strength, physical capital, financial maturity, institutional character, social and cultural character, human capital, environment and natural hazards and global appeal” for each city involved in their global city study. In their study, social and cultural character only contributed 5% to a city’s ranking, and human capital only 15%. Economic strength leads the categories at 30%, however I believe that if a city invests in gl0bal appeal (10%), that city will become more economically sound.

Chicago is not a destination city. Tourists from around the world go to other cities in the U.S. before they come to this matured cow-town. How can we retain our global status if we do not bring in more business and people from around the world? The city has recognized this issue, and we are trying to attract more businesses and tourism. It will take time to change the image of “America’s most dangerous city”. Many nations still think of us that way. The city has a lot to offer: beautiful lakefront property, mild summers, port access, and a large international airport. According to an article (about a study done by the Economic Intelligence Unit) written by Nick Timiraos in the Wall Street Journal called The Most Expensive Cities in the World to Live, Chicago is relatively cheap to live here, considering it is ranked 21st of the U.S. cities and New York is ranked 7th.

I believe there is hope for Chicago. The city is moving in the right directions to encourage creative people to invest here, following the three T’s of technology, tolerance, and talent. The city is also investing globally, encouraging others to plant their overseas businesses here and visit our many festivals or historical sites. Hot Spots 2025 would agree, as we are projected to move up 3 spots in their Overall 2025 City Competitiveness rankings table.

Chicago may have been built by broad shoulders and overcome many obstacles, but the city must keep looking forward and keep improving in order to compete with cities around the world. I think the city’s history and roots are desirable traits for a rising Global City.



Photo Resources:

  1. Settlers
  2. Old Chicago
  3. Loyola Ramblers
  4. Illinois Tech
  5. Northwestern U
  6. UIC
  7. Booth
  8. Skyline


  1. Florida, Richard. “Class-Divided Cities: Chicago Edition.” CityLab. The Atlantic Monthly Group, 4 Feb. 2013. Web. 28 Mar. 2016.
  2. Timiraos, Nick. “The Most Expensive Cities in the World to Live.” WSJ. Dow Jones & Company, Inc., 10 Mar. 2016. Web. 28 Mar. 2016.
  3. Kearney, A.T. “Global Cities 2015: The Race Accelerates.” A.T. Kearney. N.p., Nov. 2015. Web. 10 Apr. 2016. Link.
  4. Florida, Richard. “The Rise of the Creative Class.” Washington Monthly. The Washington Monthly, May 2002. Web. 28 Mar. 2016.
  5. Hot Spots 2025: Link.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s