Sunday, October 23, 2005

Houston, meet your older brother Chicago

I really liked Rick Casey's column today noting the similarities between Houston and Chicago, something I've noted before here.
Chicago fans may not be aware of it, but when they come to Houston this week they will be visiting their younger brother.

Houston is, in so many ways, a strapping adolescent version of Chicago.

Consider some similarities:
  • •Both are cities that work. Despite traffic problems (you wouldn't swap rush hour on the Katy Freeway for rush hour on the Dan Ryan Expressway), these are cities where the trash gets picked up, the police control crowds and things get built.
  • •Both are cities for workers. As I've noted before, Mayor Bill White talks about Houston as a city where nobody comes to retire. The same is true of Chicago. They are places of ambition, whether for blue-collar workers, entrepreneurs or executives.
  • •Both have, by design, strong mayors. They want their elected leaders to be able to get things done. Both are Democratic cities in Republican states.
  • Both are great immigrant cities. Chicago was a magnet in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to hundreds of thousands of Poles, Czechs, Italians, Irish and others. Houston is today attracting hundreds of thousands of Asians, Latin Americans, Africans and others. ...
  • Both are great restaurant towns. We have fabulous high-dollar restaurants because there is plenty of money to support them and wonderful inexpensive restaurants because of the immigrants.
Where I think I'd disagree with Rick is on characterizing Houston as an "adolescent" in comparison to Chicago. I'd characterize Chicago as an older gentleman: moderately healthy, but past his prime and beginning a genteel decline (at least decline relative to fast-growth cities in the south and west). It's certainly in better shape than most of its Midwestern brethern, but that's not saying much. It's the slow-growth capital of a stagnant and even declining region as its industrial base migrates around the world. (imho, bankrupt GM-supplier Delphi asking for 2/3 pay cuts (!) while GM and Ford lose billions is the beginning of a very painful reckoning for the high-pay union-labor manufacturing base of the Midwest).

In my mind, Houston's adolescence and young adulthood was from the NASA and Astrodome 60s through the urban-cowboy, oil-boom days of the 70s and very early 80s. We're now more like a 30-something: still young, but much more mature - and still a good distance from our peak.


At 10:02 AM, October 24, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Both are Democratic cities in Republican states."

Last I looked, Kerry and Gore carried Illinois, both by fairly comfortable margins. There was also a Senatorial election last year - Casey may recall a fellow named Obama doing pretty well against an imported candidate.

To the best of my knowledge, there's only one statewide elected Republican in Illinois right now - state treasurer Judy Baar Topinka. I'll grant you that Chicago greatly helps to make Illinois Democratic - Houston isn't proportionally big enough to have that kind of effect on Texas even if it were as Democratic as Chicago is - but this is a stretch.

-- Charles Kuffner

At 1:14 PM, October 24, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A republican was recently governor of Illinois (Ryan). He is facing some legal trouble. This, coupled with having Obama on the ballot, led to the recent overwhelming margins for democrats. Those results were atypical.

At 8:43 PM, October 24, 2005, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

I have in-laws in Illinois, and evidently just about every county outside of Chicago is Republican. But Chicago metro is 9m out of a total of only 12m in the state, so they pretty much run things (although I'm sure many of the Chicago suburbs are Republican, just like Harris county outside of Houston). Houston is 2m in a 5m metro in a 23m state.


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