world class city & costs, for the 1% only, expect
I've lived in/around Chicago my entire life. At 46, I think I've signed my last lease in this area and I'm looking to leave. The cost of living here is always rising, but wages have not, jobs are scarcer, and the middle class is shrinking because the city is becoming increasingly the realm of the 1% -- us other 99% are screwed. Politics in Chicago has always been corrupt, graft is inherent and ingrained, not just here but the entire state. The Democratic machine has less clout than ever, but don't be fooled -- the so-called "progressives"/"liberals" have a horrible NIMBY attitude which results in every unfavorable plan or idea being pushed on the working class people and neighborhoods, and the Republicans that are around are just as "connected" and just as much part of the machine as the corrupt Dems. (They wouldn't be elected otherwise.)
You can't be in politics here and NOT be corrupt -- it's how things are done, in Chicago and in Illinois. You, the working taxpayer, will be nickeled and dimed out of your hard earned cash to fund everything, and you won't have enough money left over to avail yourself of all that Chicago has to offer. This is why many people come from Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, live here for a few years, and then leave to go back where they came from, or move out to the far suburbs. Chicago has many of the great things a world class city can offer. It also has all of the bad things you'd expect from an old, long urbanized, big city.
Pros: It's a beautiful city with beautiful architecture, fantastic skyline, largest public waterfront in the US with fantastic bike/walking path, logical city plan (once you know the grid system, you can find your way any where), a beautiful parks system (probably half of which are unfortunately in ghetto areas), lots of culture (from rock, blues, jazz, symphony, opera; museums; art galleries/museums; aquarium, planetarium, etc.), very culturally diverse, ethnic cuisines from all over the world (and very authentic), and people from all walks of life, also now a 'gay mecca.' Lots of great hole in the wall joints for ethnic food, music, art, spoken word, etc. and decent clubbing. If you live anywhere in the upper midwest/Great Lakes states, and you can't afford to/don't want to go to NY or LA, Chicago is the big smoke for you (especially if you're gay) -- this is where you come.
Cons: The rich get richer, the poor get poorer, the public schools are horrible, overcrowded and underfunded (and will continue to get worse as Emanuel pushes for charter schools and closed many schools) and continue to graduate kids who can't read, write or do math -- they're basically unemployable, which is why they turn to crime, because there aren't any jobs anyway, and even if there were, they wouldn't be hired for them.
The cops are less corrupt when I was young, but now many of them aren't even from Chicago now. (This is both good and bad -- good in that it makes them less corruptible because they didn't grow up with/go to school with the criminal element in their neighborhoods; bad because they don't know their ass from a hole in the ground and they do everything by the book, whereas CPD used to have some wisdom and street smarts along with the corrupt FOP good ol' boys). It's a kinder, gentler and much gayer CPD than ever before -- and yet still ineffectual, and only quick to respond in affluent, white areas with vocal complainers. If you live in a transitional or poor neighborhood, don't expect them to respond quickly or at all, not just because they're ineffectual but because they are overwhelmed by criminal activity and stupid/drunken/drugged behavior on a constant and ongoing basis.
The city is increasingly aimed at tourism and transplants to the detriment of the life long city dwellers -- and yet even the tourists and transplants are not safe from flash robs in tourist areas like the Gold Coast and lakefront.
Rental market is very, very tight due to all the foreclosures of not only single family dwellings (homes, condos) but also multi-unit buildings. It is a landlord's market and you will pay very high rents for tiny, crappy apartments. Of course, you can find cheaper apartments, in crappier neighborhoods with higher crime and worse transportation options (whether by car or public transit).
Yes, we have great museums and cultural events -- but who can afford them, besides tourists, transplants who won't be staying, and the 1%?? I haven't gone to Taste of Chicago in years because it's over-crowded, insanely expensive, parking costs an arm and a leg, and gang bangers show up in droves. Don't forget the luxury taxes added by City of Chicago for everything from concert tickets to movie tickets. A movie will cost you $10-12 standard 7-7:30pm start time, and you're paying $10-12 to have ghetto/barrio residents talk and use their cell phones during the movie or dealing with their uncontrolled, unsupervised, thug-in-the-making brats.
The CTA public transit system is f-ed up with the new Ventra cards, the cost to pay is outrageous, and services are always being cut with fewer buses trains or stations closed from midnight to 5am. Traffic is horrible if you drive; ten years ago they were saying we were in the top 3 worst commutes in the US, and it's only gotten worse. Gas prices here are among the highest (often THE highest) in the USA (!), thanks to the extra taxes levied by the City of Chicago and the State of IL.
Sure we've got beautiful public lakefront and lots of it, but beware the muggers and flash robbers who look for joggers/cyclists. Anywhere you want to go, parking will be exorbitant thanks to the horrible deal ex-mayer Daley made with the privatized company that took over all the parking meters, and that contract is good for the next decade, you think the prices will ever go *down*? Hell no.
Yeah, world class sports teams... which you'll watch on your TV or in a sports bar because most tickets are unaffordable to the average guy on the street. A far cry from how it was when I was a kid and my dad could take all 5 of us to a ball game on his paltry teacher's salary.
The crime here is actually better than it was when I was a kid -- the murder rate is half what it was, even though the population is higher, and the property crimes and other violent crimes have decreased. But the crime is more vicious now, and it has spread beyond the bad neighborhoods where it used to be isolated.
True, the majority of shootings (fatal or otherwise) and gang activity are generally in ghetto (and barrio) neighborhoods on the West and South Sides (hello, Englewood). But the crime now travels to you via CTA, and is often committed by multiple assailants or groups (yes, groups of 8-15 kids) instead of a "lone" criminal. The criminals now are often teens because they know they will not be charged as adults.
The other problem is that the gangs are not as consolidated as they were in the 80s. The major leadership has been jailed or killed, resulting in many much smaller gang factions constantly fighting over turf and "distribution rights" for the drug traffic, and the constant spill-over of their wars into areas where kids and families are trying to scrape out a living.
Also -- shooting is not the only type of violent crime that happens here. We have had the dubious national and international notoriety of having an Irish native clubbed into permanent brain damage in a 'nice neighborhood' on the north side by Hispanic drug addicts, the youngest accused murderers ever charged in the US (wow, fantastic police work, CPD!), and flash robs in both retail and outdoor public places that start when the weather gets warm and continue until it gets cold. Basically the minute it starts to get warm, the shootings and homicides rise at a rapid rate.
Expect to sit in horrible traffic between 7am-9:30am and 2:30pm-6pm. Commutes are horrible, the CTA is expensive and overcrowded and poorly policed except in 'nice' areas.
The weather -- yeah, it's harsh. It's been unseasonably cold and we've had near record breaking amounts of snow this winter (2013-2014 winter). That being said... it USED TO BE LIKE THIS when I was a kid, so the amount of complaining is from people who are (a) not originally from here and got used to the mild winters we've had the last 15-20 years, and (b) from here but who got used to the mild winters and consider it the 'new normal.'
Chicago was ALWAYS bitter cold in the winter when I was a kid, and with lots of snow. I've lived through 3 of the 4 snowiest winters and Chicago is back up and running in less than a day, or a day or two at the most. Summers are often hot and humid thanks to Lake Michigan, but it is always cooler at the lake in summer, and warmer at the lakefront in winter. Spring is short. Probably the best months are September to November. Indian summers here are beautiful.
The Chicago public parks were conceived in the 19th century and there were supposed to be more... but let's just be thankful for what we've got, because they're pretty big and nice for the most part. And, other than the lakefront, the public parks are all the nature you're going to get. The population density here is about 12,000 people per square mile, so when you're trying to get away from people at a public park, there's a ton of people around you trying to do the same thing. Same thing at the lakefront. Be aware parks are overloaded with families and groups barbecuing and drinking and having large, loud gatherings in the summer. The amount of trash and filth is incredible in the evenings, and feeds a huge and growing population of rats (endemic since the 1800s), raccoons, and coyotes. People often don't clean up after their dogs (yuppies as well as ghetto clowns), and many just open their doors and let them run around with no leash.
Yeah, we've got universities, all with tuition that has gone up 400% more than earnings, so good luck paying for your education these days. Jobs are scarcer, and many businesses have left the state due to increased costs (also labor costs due to unions). Many that are still here employee barely literate overwhelmingly minority civil servants (um, the County buildings, many city buildings, many public institutions, schools, etc.) who are rude, entitled, lazy and incompetent. If you aren't a racist when you come here, you will become one by the time you leave.
It's weird to be nostalgic about the old Chicago, when it was more dangerous, crime-ridden and dicier. And yet everything that was great about it, was better then, and was more affordable to the average Joe, from the free days at the museums and zoo/aquarium/planetarium, to the affordability of the ball games.
What's great about Chicago now has been priced out of affordability for the average person, and that (especially) includes the hard working, blue collar, working class people/minorities who increasingly struggle to get by. They know better than anyone else that Chicago has become a city only for rich white people. If you're white, you may be fooled into thinking you can make it here, when you get here. But unless you're the 1% white, you'll know by the time you leave Chicago that all it has to offer isn't intended for you. At all.