If that sounds unlikely, consider Friday’s Tribune op-ed, “Chicago should annex adjoining suburbs.” In it, Edward McClelland, the author of “Nothin’ but Blue Skies” and “How to Speak Midwestern,” reveals that Chicago can regain its former Second City status by annexing adjoining suburbs.
It would be a good way to capture their suburban populations, he wrote, and, more importantly, their tax base as a way to reverse the dismal fact that Chicago is a rarity among major cities: one that’s losing population.
Not all suburbs would want to get gobbled up by Chicago, he concedes, but some might be
attracted by Chicago’s lower taxes. And others, such as struggling south suburbs that are in a financial free fall, might be attracted by the city’s amenities and financial help. Besides, he argues, places like suburban Lincolnwood and Elmwood Park are “far from having their own culture” so they would want to be absorbed by Chicago communities that have “a sense of distinctiveness.”
You could fill a phone booth (any still around?) with all the suburbanites who, having fled Chicago, would love to turn their communities back to Chicago City Hall. The corruption. The racial tensions. The approaching bankruptcy. The public employee unions. The crime. The (as sociologists like to call it) anomie that makes many more Chicagoans feel isolated and alone than what you’d find in suburban communities.
Judging by the comments posted by readers of McClelland’s op-ed, some people think the better plan is for suburbs to annex Chicago–the choice parts, of course. That is, if there are any suburbs that would want any part of Chicago. For example, would Oak Park, which has successfully walled off encroaching West Side problems, want to annex South Austin? How would Evanston feel about appending the Juneway Jungle?
If Oak Lawn annexed Beverly and Skokie absorbed Edgebrook, were would all those cops, firefighters and other city workers that are required to live in Chicago go?
So, to turn the tables on McClelland’s idea, the suburbs should grab only the revenue-rich parts of Chicago. Such as the tax-rich industrial stretches abutting some suburbs. And here’s some just deserts: Bensenville, butchered by useless and wasteful O’Hare expansion, should be allowed to glom onto the airport.
The argument that the Chicago exodus can be halted by grabbing its neighbors is flawed because if Chicago expands it reach, so will the suburbs, as people and business move farther and farther way to escape Grendel.
No, what’s essentially needed to stop the exodus is to abandon the Chicago Way–the dirty politics, the greed and corruption that so many intelligent and practical people have fled. The chances of that happening are slimmer than Chicago being allowed to annex the suburbs.
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