Chicago’s Downtown: Dead or Alive?

LaSalle Street is deserted. A post-pandemic norm

Though the pandemic is waning, downtown Chicago remains semi-comatose.  On a Monday at mid-day, the financial district was empty except for a handful of pedestrians.  Absent were the Ubers, trucks, and cabs usually clogging this part of town.  South LaSalle Street, which has been in decline since the Chicago Board of Trade (center) closed its trading floors, is even more of a ghost town than before.


How sound are the balance sheets of these massive commercial buildings?  The Real Deal reports that, by the end of 2020, the vacancy rate in Chicago’s central business district had climbed to a “grim” level of 14.2 percent, with 148.2 million square feet of unrented office space.  Meanwhile, businesses still holding leases tried to reduce their obligations by offering to sublease 5.4 million square feet of vacant space, a 93-percent increase over 2019.

Commercial real estate broker MBRE reports that the vacancy rate has since increased to 15.36 percent at the end of March, 2021.  When the sublease space is thrown in, the total rate of surplus office space comes to 19.20 percent.  (Office vacancy in the Chicago suburbs has been rising, too.)


With so few Chicagoans commuting downtown, and tourism at a standstill, entities that provide ancillary goods and services are languishing.  It’s eerie seeing so few people on this particular stretch of Adams.  Normally, people would be strolling toward the Art Institute (center), going for lunch at the Revival Food Hall (left), or doing business at the Federal Court Buildings and Post Office (right).


In-person activity in the vicinity of the Federal Court remains subdued.  Chicago’s downtown, while paralyzed by COVID, was also gravely injured by the opportunistic violence perpetrated during the summer of 2020.  Many businesses went under in the wake of the looting and the trauma; others, though solvent, remain indefinitely closed for want of custom.  Some storefront businesses, like the Intelligentsia in the Monadnock Building (center), stand poised to reopen should their former clientele materialize.

Given the relative expense of doing business in Chicago and prevailing wait-and-see atmosphere, it’s doubtful when the city will wake up and regain its health.

Day 29: Sicko

Hospitalized with a contagious disease, the president continued to behave recklessly.  Yesterday, he demanded that his Secret Service detail pile into a hermetically sealed car with him to parade him past a few well-wishers congregating outside.  Trump’s macho spree, which needlessly compromised his agents’ health, marked a nadir in his relations with Americans already disgusted and fed up with his grossly irresponsible, inconsiderate ways.

It is terribly demoralizing to realize that someone so ungoverned and ungovernable will be returning to the summit of American power. Last week, the New York Times’ expose of Trump’s finances showed cheating to be one of Trump’s lifelong passions, whereas Tuesday’s debate showed Trump to be deeply unreliable when truth and trust are needed most.  Trump is like a faithless husband to the US, his bride.  His love of lying and threats toward voters and other segments of the American population are abusive traits, which, in a marriage, no self-respecting spouse would tolerate.  Yet no one in America can rein in Donald Trump or call him to account.

As Trump returns to the White House from Walter Reed, the nation braces for the next episode of this excruciating charade.  Even though Biden is ahead in the polls, whether the US is on the verge of being rid of Donald Trump or Republican control of the Senate is still very uncertain.  The people in Trump’s administration, his allies in the Senate and elsewhere, donors and capitalists who support Trump for cynical reasons: their actions threaten America’s very being.  Today, I wonder whether the US can survive as a republic if they pull off a win.  In any event, it will take years of effort to build back better, to check the destructive forces that Trump has summoned.  American voters have the power, if only they will wield it, to stave off further disaster, so that reform can begin.

Day 31: The Empty Shell

What are your thoughts on hearing of the unexpected illness of a president who has pitted his fortunes against those of a majority of the American people? After flouting and dismissing measures known to protect the public against COVID’s spread, Trump has gotten the disease himself. He’s in the hospital and said to be doing well, but any outcome is possible. He could recover after just a slight case, or he could worsen; he could die.

Many in Trump’s Republican party mimicked his cavalier approach to the disease. Just as he became sick, so too have a passel of his Republican allies taken ill with COVIDat the same time: GOP party chair Ronna McDaniel; First Lady Melania Trump; Senators Thom Tillis (NC), Ron Johnson (WI), and Mike Lee (UT); Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s close aide Hope Hicks, his campaign manager Bill Stepien, and former Governor Chris Christie, who, with several others listed here, helped Trump prepare for last Tuesday’s debate.

The White House approach to COVID protocols was lax, leading to an outbreak that threatens the stability and security of the United States by sidelining, distracting, and disabling too many of its influential figures at once.

Yet one’s overall impression is how little any sick or healthy Republican cares. It doesn’t matter much to Republicans that the White House can’t do the work of the people, because that long ago vanished as top priority. The Republicans’ main focus since Trump tested positive has been on his suddenly changed situation and what it might mean for them. The party’s agenda consists of two main items: rushing Amy Coney Barrett onto the Supreme Court and making sure (by any means) that Trump wins re-election. No one cares whether Trump misses a few days of work at the White House, because, in all his tenure there, he’s avoided the chore of serving the people.

This has become clear as his schedule over the past week or so has been scrutinized for the bearing it might have on Washington’s contagion. Jetting around to campaign rallies, schmoozing at fund-raisers, preparing for the presidential debate, putting in a ghastly showing in it, and hosting a GOP love-fest for Amy Coney Barrett in the Rose Garden: such are the events that engross Trump most.

In the meantime, millions of Americans are out of work, running out of funds, and going hungry. Many are worried about losing their homes and access to medical care, even as winter comes on and the virus lingers and spreads. Businesses are folding, wildfires rage, and the bright possibilities of vibrant, solvent cities have evaporated. Cities like New York and Chicago, which represent some of the nation’s greatest concentrations of human and real capital, are barely holding together. Some vast piles of money that Congress set aside to help with these problems remain unspent or were spent improperly, attesting to Mr Trump’s ineptitude and indifference when he’s taxed with helping anyone but himself.

Under Donald Trump, the White House has become an empty shell. While he receives Cadillac treatment at Walter Reed, Americans can’t help but notice how little Trump and his ilk care about them.

Image: Currier & Ives print of the White House (1877),
from this source.