Thursday, March 14, 2013

Urban Geopolitics: Why Chicago Is Dying

Before I discovered talent geopolitics, I learned about the geopolitics of global cities through the writings of political geographer Peter Taylor. The challenge for Taylor has been teasing out how urban economies challenge state sovereignty. One tension concerns international borders:

Contemporary globalization was initially heralded by talk of a new “borderless world.” This raised the profiles of cities, which, through the work of financial, professional, and creative firms, became the key nodes in this new, global economy. But economic globalization has proven far more complex than the simple notion that borders are disappearing. Businesses simultaneously work with and around borders. This inter-play of borders and cities is crucial. It’s rarely noticed how structurally similar the rise of a China-dominated East is to the established, American-dominated West. The economies of both regions pivot on a strategic triad of cities consisting of a national capital (Washington, Beijing), a global financial center (New York, Shanghai), and an extra-territorial global platform (London, Hong Kong). This latter pair, beyond the borders of direct economic jurisdiction by each dominant country, provides the necessary maneuverability for global business.

Instead of distinct from, state power is wielded through primary global cities. One way to use Taylor's construct is to analyze dynamics of the US urban hierarchy. Tweet from Ryan Avent regarding the US Census data dump today:

The Balt-Wash CMSA, at 9.3m, is close to displacing the Chicago CMSA (9.9m) as the country's third largest.

Aaron Renn (Urbanophile) has been the leading thinker about how DC is challenging Chicago's claim to "America's Second City" title. Taylor puts this competition into theoretical perspective. Geopolitically, DC and NYC matter. Chicago doesn't.

That bit of insight helps us understand how globalization impacts US economic geography. You are either part of the NYC-DC hegemony or you aren't. There is Greater Greater New York. And then there is the rest of the United States. In Taylor terms, you are either in the core (exploiter) or in the periphery (exploited). Puts quite a different spin on the problem of gentrification.

Where does that leave dying Chicago? In a tailspin of relative decline and a position of national, not global, prominence where the likes of San Antonio can take aim and knock it further down the urban hierarchy. Globalization has left Chicago behind.


Matthew Hall said...

This has particularly large implications for other midwest cities. How do or have St. Louis. Minneapolis, Cincinnati or other midwest cities taken advantage of the people and capital that might now flow to them instead?

Jim Russell said...

Other Midwestern cities face the same dilemma that Chicago does. Cleveland is the western limit of Greater Greater NYC. Those cities tied to Chicago are in trouble, too.

Matthew Hall said...

So, you are arguing that the midwest will increasingly find itself left out of emerging economic networks. I thought that convergence was going to spread the wealth. Why not in the Midwest?

Jim Russell said...

The divergence/convergence model is one way to look at Chicago. This Peter Taylor model is another. Using Taylor, leaving for Chicago gets replaced by leaving for Greater Greater NYC.