Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Is Chicago a "World City"?

In researching for a previous post I found a report that concluded that the gross domestic product of the Chicago area was the fourth largest in the world, after Tokyo, New York and Los Angeles. Over the next 15 years, the Chicago region's GDP is expected to grow at a 2.3% annual rate, at bit faster than the New York and Los Angeles areas. By 2020 Chicago's GDP will have increased from $460 billion to $645 billion and the Chicago metropolitan area will rank fifth in the world as measured by GDP (London, currently in the number six position, will leapfrog Paris and Chicago to take the number four position).

Another publication, Foreign Direct Investment, identified Chicago as the leading "City of the Future" in the United States. The positive description of this region in the article is at odds with the predictions of doom and gloom for our region from the public transit front:

Chicago, Illinois’ ambitious development plans, massive infrastructure investment, reasonable location costs and an energetic regional economy have kept it at the top of fDi’s major Cities of the Future shortlist.

Chicago ranked as the US City of the Future in 2005 and has developed a massive lead ahead of its nearest competitors in the past two years thanks to high levels of public and private investment and consistently strong economic indicators. As fDi went to press, Chicago was waiting to see if it would be chosen by the US Olympic Committee to bid for the 2016 summer games.

I had no idea that Chicago had such global economic heft. I thought that our location in the Rust Belt, outside of the high growth areas in the South and Southwest, and our eclipse by Los Angeles as the nation's second largest city, meant that this region had slipped a tier or two and couldn't be counted as one of the major world cities. As I recall, Saskia Sassen in her book "The Global City" classified Chicago with cities like Osaka and Detroit as "tweeners," not really global cities but still considerable urban areas of more than regional significance. She was relatively pessimistic about the prospects for these in-between cities. (Of course, she voted with her feet and now teaches at the University of Chicago!)

Consequently, I viewed the Moving Beyond Congestion initiative's rhetoric about making sure that Chicago has a "world class" transit system because it is a "world class" city as so much PR flack talk. If urban GDP is a valid measure of whether an urban region is world class or not, however, then these studies suggest that the Chicago region is world class and that the aspirations and exhortations to build a world class transit system may be on target.

You learn something every day.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

A world class system...yes, yes. Canards and other things moral diverting ...no.

Justin said...

"If urban GDP is a valid measure of whether an urban region is world class..."

Therein lies the quandary. Alot also lies in how GDP is calculated, and how numbers are compared internationally (World Bank PPP, etc). Out of curiosity, where are Chinese cities in 2020?