By: William Johnson | Crain’s Chicago Business | Dec 15, 2021
Is Chicago past its prime? Judging by what Windy City residents said in a new Harris Poll study, it may well be. More than three-quarters of Chicago-area residents consider the city established (43%) or declining (35%). Less than half (47%) believe Chicago is attracting new residents and businesses.
City-dwellers are less likely (64%) than their suburbanite cousins (71%) to say that their neighborhood is enticing new residents and businesses. More city residents (23%) than suburbanites, on the other hand, describe their neighborhood as declining.
The good news is that the city problems are reversible.
Most Chicagoans (81%) agree that urban development initiatives offer a strong incentive to attract new residents and to spur growth. Twice as many Chicagoans want local leaders to take charge (40%) of such efforts as prefer private-sector entities (20%). And those living in Chicago itself are more likely to take advantage of existing or upcoming city projects such as the Obama Presidential Center (62% to 40% respectively), 606 trail (50% to 25%), 312 River Run (43% to 25%), and Lincoln Yards (39% to 23%).
But leaders face challenges. For one thing, only 30% of Chicago-area residents, and 37% of city residents, believe that development initiatives have positively affected their own neighborhood. These low numbers highlight an opportunity for local leaders to bring meaningful projects to the area. But that involves the second challenge: revitalizing communities without gentrifying them—erasing their unique character or making them unaffordable for longtime residents.
Most Chicagoans (58%) see gentrification as a necessary side effect of urban development, but an even larger number—81%—want such renewal projects to work within a neighborhood’s existing footprint, instead of removing recognizable buildings, el tracks and other landmarks. Notably, Chicagoans of color (54%) are less likely than their white counterparts (61%) to feel that gentrification is a necessary result of urban development, likely because they have been disproportionately affected by gentrification driving up the cost of their neighborhoods.
So the challenge for city leaders is clear: Revitalize and restore Chicago without transforming its character. Maintain the diversity and personality that made it the City That Works in the first place.
Data from the Harris Poll is based on responses from 1,000 adults in the Chicago area on behalf of Crain’s Chicago Business.
William Johnson is CEO of the Harris Poll, a public opinion, market research and strategy firm based in Chicago.