Chicago’s ‘Potemkin village’ efforts to change

If you care about the future of America, pay attention to what is happening in Chicago. Civil order, the confidence that one can go about daily life without human predators attacking at the first opportunity, is slipping away, as police find themselves unable to interdict gang activities, and in effect let them shoot each other, along with the occasional innocent bystander, often a young child. The anarchy zone is spreading out of the gang strongholds and into neighborhoods formerly regarded as safe.

Then there is the fiscal black hole represented by pension obligations that have grown to the point where they leave little tax revenue for actual services by actual city employees who have not yet retired. Taxes have skyrocketed, and will only go up – multiplying – if those obligations are to be honored.

These factors are well known to our readership, if not a top-of-mind concern of mainstream media. They are forcing businesses and residents out of Chicago, as the city shrinks in population and economic activity.

People with a large financial and personal stake in the city want things to change. But, it would seem that they are unwilling to confront the political dimensions. Consider this very serious, well-researched, and undoubtedly sincere presentation coming from the Chicago Council on Science and Technology.  That group will hear a presentation from an expert on tech innovation, chronicling the sad fact that Chicago has fallen way, way, way behind in developing technology startups. Even though the city has followed the recipe that has been offered by other “experts”:

Since 2012, Chicago has built an estimated 1.5 million square feet of coworking spaces, and about 80 or 90 incubators and accelerators. By any reasonable measure of success, this massive effort has not translated into a competitive market for advanced industries. Chicago has not grown its share of the national venture capital market, and we have not brought more national investment into the region for the purposes of advancing technology. More significantly, Chicago has not kept pace with changes in our industrial economy. (snip)

Chicago remains mired in the second-tier of venture capital deal flow, according to the National Venture Capital’s Yearbook, an annual scorecard of venture capital deals that was released this month. Less than two percent of venture capital in the United States is invested in Chicago, same as it’s been since 2012, when we started building this Potemkin Village. By comparison, over that same time, New York has doubled its share of the American venture capital market, and now one in ten venture dollars are invested in New York. While new markets are being created in the genomic sciences, artificial intelligence, and robotic technologies in the Bay Area, New York, and Boston, Chicago seems rooted in designing new software programs that could have easily been produced at the coasts years and years ago.

Chicago is falling very far behind. Yet, the city is full of the amenities that renowned “expert” on urban life Richard Florida said encourage a flourishing “creative class” – coffee houses, art galleries, the whole trendy city life thing that is supposed to attract the precious techies that populate San Francisco, Seattle, and Austin.

Unfortunately, in the entire presentation being heard by the movers and shakers, all the fixes are technical, and the words “public safety” and “taxes” are not to be found.

I have nothing but love for Chicago and its citizens. I do not want it to follow the Detroit model of urban decline. But unless and until its civil leadership faces the real problems, it will not reverse course. And with a political power structure headed by Rahm Emanuel and still in hoc to the ethnic and labor interest groups, that is not going to happen.

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