NATO is coming to Chicago in a few weeks for its 25th summit since its founding in 1949. It means 28 nations and their leaders, some 2000 international journalists, and un-reported numbers of Chicago Police, National Guard, Secret Service and rooftop sniper-patrols as the international community gets a look at our city, and our city gets a look at the international community.
Second to a seat on the Shuttle, it may be Chicagoans’ best opportunity to sense just how big the world is, and how inter-dependent the planet’s 7 billion bumping-into-one-another lives actually are. Perhaps helping us to frame the presidential campaign’s coming debate over the value of returning to that 19thC spirit of rugged individualism some of us cheer.
Still, Chicago’s impending spectacle of Globalism can’t quite overshadow the splendors of our Localism. Of our city’s many local neighborhood communities, each a little ethnic and caste enclave all its very own. If NATO is bringing the world to us, our city already is home to most of the world. With more Poles, Italians, Germans, and Jews than in most of the cities in their own home lands.
We’re not the biggest metropolis [only 2,700, 000 down from our high of 3,700.000 in 1950]. And we’re not ranked the finest [that always goes to New York, London or Paris]. But find another world-class city which has better encouraged its local communities to hold and honor their proud Localism? All the while, still fueling their emerging Globalism.
From Albany Park, Andersonville and Austin to Woodlawn, West Pullman and Wrigleyville, many of our community enclaves took shape from out of the ashes of the Great Chicago Fire in 1871. Irish and German, Polish and Italian, Black and Mexican, Asian and Arab. Over this century-and-a-half, it’s happened in ways that keep sociologists busy spinning new demographic theories to explain each community’s unique birth, childhood, middle age, and often gentrifying rebirth such as in DePaul, Lincoln Park, Lakeview, Bucktown and Pilsen.
NATO members may not have the time, but we do to take one of the daily sight-seeing bus and boat tours. Or, better yet, to walk these streets and stores whenever it’s practical. You can virtually sense when you’re entering one of these communities. Each looks different. feels different. is different.
This has a lot to do with our distinctive neighborhood festivals and feasts. More than 100 each year bubble up from the passions and purposes of the local neighbors, retailers, and churches. We may be cocooned inside our homes most nights of the year, but on these special occasions we spill out into the streets and actually talk to one another!
But why wait for the events when the everyday is already available. The everyday mom&pop shops, the corner taverns, the nearby parks, plus the passel of schoolyards, stores and factories which pump everyday life into our get-ahead local communities. Contrary to the 10 o’clock news, the large majority are unpretentiously functioning every new day. Compelling our better angels to believe that, yes, both our city-of-cities and the world in which it thrives are still making it.
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