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 21: The “Dangerous” Democrats

The backbone of Republican rhetoric is that Democrats are dangerous. Republicans claim the Democratic party is filled with people who are going to destroy what you depend on and take it away.  It is nearer to the truth to say that Democrats want to give more to ordinary Americans. They want to lift up ordinary citizens and commit government to their general well-being.  That is what makes Democrats so “dangerous.”

Republicans don’t want you to vote your interests.  They assail reasonable, equitable, policy goals as somehow subversive, un-American.  Too good to be true.

The Democrats want to give you something. The Republicans want to demonize that aspiration; they have been doing it for years, acting as though, in the richest nation on the planet, there isn’t enough to go around.  Republicans want you to believe in scarcity, in the hardship that will follow if the government tries to “lift all boats,” even as the tide has crested to record highs for the nation’s most wealthy.  Two days ago, the Federal Reserve released data showing that the wealth of the fifty richest Americans is roughly equal to that of half of the population.  That’s right: just fifty people have as much wealth as the poorest 165 million Americans, combined.

Republicans want you to believe that the Democrats’ more generous vision for America is dangerous.  They want you to believe that the US can’t afford to a system of universal health care, that it’s too much to hope for coverage that continues when you lose your job.  They want you to believe that efforts to ensure that you can see a doctor more easily and cheaply will harm you: that you will be harmed, your freedom destroyed, if American policy so much as ventures that way.

Republicans want you to believe the US can’t afford to have a thriving economy while mitigating climate change.  They want you to believe that protecting vital natural resources is going to leave you broke or unemployed.  Trump has rolled back every protection he can, adding pollutants to the water you drink and the air you breathe.  The truth is that going green will safeguard your community, your health and your property while creating a gravy train of new and socially meaningful jobs.

Trump is a master at demonizing the Democrats, repeating lies about Biden over and over again, such as that Biden wants to defund the police and get rid of fracking.  Trump groundlessly claims Biden’s recovery plans will destroy the economy, whereas Moody Analytics says that Biden’s plans are far superior to Trump’s, that they will promote a faster economic recovery while creating an estimated 7 million jobs.

So don’t believe the Republicans. Let yourself believe in a better, fairer, and more vibrant America.  Vote for the “dangerous Democrats.”  It’s better for America, and it’s better for you.

Image: “The Ring of Thanks”
from this source.

 

Seismic Forces Rock the Parties

White height, © 2016 Susan Barsy
The newspapers I glimpsed while traveling communicated a sense of political calamity, the dismay of wonks, journalists, and miffed members of the GOP.  Trump, the party’s likely nominee, was causing the commotion, but the kerfuffle spoke volumes about the muddled condition of the party itself.  Something seismic is happening: the GOP’s ill-assorted components are about to morph into something new, or break apart.

In ordinary times, politicians, the media, and a vast network of consultants and experts promote ideological order and continuity.  The nation’s leaders use the media, and influential constituents use the leaders, to shape the citizenry’s vision, mapping out choice in a limited way.  A centrist ideology that is pro-corporate and pro-global has dominated both parties since the Clinton era, while ‘hard-liners’ of various stripes have increasingly dominated the GOP.  These modern-day fire-eaters may be against federal debt, reproductive rights, or even religious pluralism, but, collectively, they have skillfully gained sway within the Republican Party, with the dream of imposing their minority views on a moderate mainstream.

Trump has attacked the precepts of this centrist-right ideology, making him anathema to many leaders in both parties.  Are Americans voting for Trump because they are hateful and benighted, or are they supporting him because he alone is promising to jettison a set of ideas that has left much of the population stuck in the past and impoverished?  In either case, his ascendancy shows how completely the GOP establishment has lost touch with the people’s will.  The hegemony of the social conservatives and GOP moderates is over.  Paul Ryan and others who want Trump to shift in their direction hope to perpetuate it.  They’ll fail.

Will Donald Trump allow other GOP leaders to ‘handle’ him?  If he accepts orders from the likes of Paul Ryan, voters will conclude Trump is being co-opted and abandon him.  Ryan claims his goal is to ‘unify’ the party: if so, he could hardly have gone about it in a less auspicious way.  Why grand-stand when more might be accomplished quietly?  This crisis has exposed leading Republicans as shockingly short on political skills.  But then, how can a party whose leaders are famous for digging in their heels suddenly develop a genius for collective compromise?

In general, we can hardly blame Trump for the downward slide occurring in our political culture.  He has divined a set of issues that voters care about most passionately, and his ideological response has been more apt than that of any other prominent Republican.  We can abhor Trump’s crudeness and bigotry, and we can impede him by voting someone else into the presidency.  If I were a Republican party leader, however, I sure would be trying to salvage whatever is feasible about his ideology, and trying to integrate it into that of my party.

Trump’s main talking points have to do with restoring broad economic prosperity, insisting on corporate responsibility, and burnishing American citizenship’s prestige.  Trump’s ferocious hatred of outsourcing and unfair trade, his demand that something be done to relieve blue-collar pain, are oddly reminiscent of the leaderless Occupy movement’s themes.  Trump might not have it in him to be a successful president, but he’s been smashingly successful at reminding us that politics is ultimately about ideas not money.  Those who want to stop Trump need to counter his ideas with a positive agenda.  Can his opponents disavow their complacency?  Can they disavow their role in perpetuating a dysfunctional status quo?

Photograph by Susan Barsy