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Photo by Jack Huynh, Orange Photography

Chicago - the second best city in America

By Jordanna Thigpen

March 17, 2006

I returned this week from exhibiting at the National Halloween & Party Show in Chicago. You really haven't lived until you've spent a week checking out the latest in Halloween costumes (looks like we're in for a sexy Halloween), trying out this year's haunted house attractions, and involuntarily suffering through repeated refrains of Terror & Mystery sound effects and breathing a week's worth of fog machine effluent, all while trying to field customers at your booth. Oh, and getting the autograph of the first Jason from Friday the 13th (remember the lake scene?)

So escaping to downtown Chicago, and touring some outlying urban areas, was really a blessing. Why is it the second best city in the US?

The roads and freeways are in good condition. Now Chicago sees some pretty heavy winters. Snow and ice wreak havoc on roads, and so do semis filled with America's finest cattle, chemicals, and grain. Yet, the roads are in better shape than the Bay Area's. How is that possible?

The city is on track - and according to Mayor Daley, dedicated - to being the most environmentally friendly city in the world.

Mayor Daley is an amazingly progressive environmentalist. The City Hall has a rooftop garden with 20,000 plants. The City has adopted the Chicago Standard that outlines strict green building standards for municipal buildings.

Back in 2004, the City entered into a court settlement with Commonwealth Edison to create a $100 million fund for green buildings. The city even has a Center for Green Technology, housed in a building that is the only platinum LEED-certified municipal building in the world.

Chicago has so many innovative programs! Being a visitor and looking at the list at City Hall is like starving in a candy store. Programs for landlord training, creating public art, a Greencorps Chicago program which conducts workforce development for greening projects, a Façade Rebate Program which is unbelievably managed by neighborhood business organizations, and a CitySpace Program which is a partnership between several public entities to convert public land into open space.

The city has dedicated substantial resources to programs which help the small business community. Chicago is doing so many things right, and it's run from the top-down, so there's actual cogent order in the government.

We're talking about Illinois, I realize. There are still problems.

Archaically, people still smoke in restaurants in the suburbs, and at bars, so you cannot sit at a restaurant's bar and enjoy a meal. There's lots of Republicans. I even sat next to one on the ride back, a glycol salesman who confided he was concerned about the breathtaking incompetence of Bush Inc, and would consider voting for a Democrat in 2008.

The property taxes are some of the highest in the country, according to bitter local residents (although the city and state have more resources to improve society as a result.)

People do not seem as healthy as Californians. A lot of suburbs are really Anglo, and racial tensions are unresolved. In the words of a local columnist, the city is world famous for political corruption. And they might be beautiful, but federally protected migratory Canadian geese are apparently filthy pests causing problems at local parks.

But we cannot forget that Chicago's progressive spirit has given us Senator Barack Obama, Mayor Daley, and former Governor Ryan (the jury just started deliberating in his corruption trial, but he put a moratorium on the death penalty when he was governor, so he deserves special mention.)

It is a land of the most hopeful, most compassionate, most amazing leaders we've yet seen in our current landscape. Senator Obama is hyponotically inspiring and will be our first African-American President.

Mayor Daley toils pragmatically with pure iron singing in his veins. Ryan will live in history for having the sense to stop the racist, broken death penalty system.

I must finally note that everyone is friendly. Wherever you go, people are smiling and ready to help. People of both sexes are courteous and hold the door for each other. Straight men actually smile at women! A revelation for a female. Is it bourgeois to care about this? Yes, but it's still delightful, just like Chicago itself.

District 6 resident Jordanna Thigpen is an attorney, small business owner and a Commissioner with the City's Small Business Commission. You can usually find her at work and she doesn't get to Ocean Beach often enough. Email Jordanna at jgthigpen@gmail.com.

Click here for Thigpen archive.




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