I’ve been to Chicago countless times since leaving there in 1995, even opening an office there for my previous firm. It was only when I was recently visiting my son Ben and his girlfriend Emma there and reliving life as a 20-something through them that I gained a full appreciation of how that city has been transformed.
I’ve been aware of Chicago’s increasing gentrification and how the popular walking neighborhoods like Lincoln Park had expanded their influence west, north, and south to new areas of the city, but only when walking with Ben and Emma through Wicker Park, Bucktown and even neighborhoods like Pilsen did I realize the extent of the change, how exciting this is, and how it serves as an inspiration for cities like Detroit.
Recently, more people have been attracted to and have helped expand walkable, quality-of-life neighborhoods. At the same time, corporations, such as AT&T, Motorola, Hillshire Brands (successor of Sara Lee), and Kraft Heinz, which flocked to the suburbs for cheap real estate and accessibility for cars 20 years ago are now flocking back to the city. Why is this happening? It’s another example of how corporations come to talent rather than the other way around.
Cities can leverage whatever assets they have (such as the lakefront in Chicago) and make the right place-making investments, and talent, particularly the young creative class, will follow – and so will corporations as they seek to attract that talent. As of 2015, the millennial generation surpassed Generation X to be the largest group in the U.S. workforce. More than ever before, this young crowd is drawn to the vitality, opportunities, and cultural offerings of an urban setting.
For Detroit, Chicago’s recent progress is a true inspiration and a beacon of hope for its successful development and exuberant future. How exciting it is to see Chicago’s transformation and to dream of how another city, 250 miles to the east and also located on a beautiful body of water, might find itself similarly transformed 20 or so years hence!