Why I Moved (And Why I Stayed)
Yesterday I posted something about a John Kass reader column, in which "Steve The Pilot" explained why, as a lifelong Chicagoan, he left the city. I invited y'all to share your reasons why you have left your city, or why you decided to stay. Here are some responses I received.
From a reader:
My dad grew up on the same block as John Kass, and he keeps in touch with him to this day. Just to reiterate what a lot of people are saying: I grew up in a southwest Chicago suburb. Almost everyone in my extended family lived a 10 minutes drive from my home. But now most of my cousins have left the area. My aunts and uncles are leaving. And I think my parents (both proud Chicagoans) might leave. It is sad to see what Chicago has become. I was there over the summer. Michigan Ave. was all boarded up. My dad who used to work downtown was concerned about staying there too late. I left the city in total surprise, concerned it might go the way of Detroit.
Now my wife and I live in Dallas. Actually, the day we left Chicago for Dallas was the day Lori Lightfoot was elected. I gave Illinois a big middle finger after crossing the Mississippi.
This guy is staying:
Thanks for reposting the guest spot on Kass' substack -- I read it and it speaks to me BUT I am staying put, for now.
Some quick background: I grew up and went to college in Michigan. When I graduated in '96, Chicago was an obvious choice for a young professional to get started. Lots of jobs, a variety of neighborhoods and living options and a thriving music/arts scene to keep life interesting. I was a dem political op (worked on the re-elect after a '94 internship in the white house) and musician but had no taste for DC. I came to Chicago as an advance staffer in Sept of '96 and was SOLD - lets of Irish Catholic guys in the Daley admin and more beautiful women than I had ever seen in one place. Place to be.
It was sketchy for the first few years - you never hung out downtown after dark, companies paid for cabs if you worked past 7 and literally NO ONE lived downtown. Over the next decade, that changed bigtime. South Loop, West Loop, River North....they all became residential (condo) neighborhoods and nightlife exploded. It felt safer, and the numbers bore that out. . Crime largely receded to the South and West Side gang hideouts, little Deadwoods that rarely broke out of the block to block warfare that's been going on since the 60's.
I got married in '04 and picked a NW side neighborhood in '10 to raise a family, a boring little neighborhood with an L stop to get you anywhere. Safe, pretty clean with a good mix of working/middle class and immigrants from all over. We bought a small house for our small family, paid 200K and locked in a nice rate. That made lots of other things - private school, breaks from work, fun travel - possible. Our boys are thriving in our neighborhood Catholic school and local sports leagues, and that matters more to me than anyting. So we are sitting tight.
Definitely things changed around 2015/16. The anti-police movement really gained steam after the MacDonald shooting, and it got worse with Ferguson and so on. 2020 was chaos. But here's the thing - you can spend 95% (or more) or your life in Chicago in your neighborhood. I've been downtown maybe 5 times in the last 3 years. We go to other neighborhoods, - always N or NW side - once in a while, but mainly we are close to home. It may be unique to Chicago but neighborhoods are are really self-sufficient with local schools, groceries, parks and such. I worry about downtown, particularly as it funds the city, but I have some hope left.
I see what Steve the Pilot is saying, and I respect that his view is longer than mine as I moved here as an adult, but there are a lot (a million? more?) of us in Chicago riding this out because we believe in our neighbors, our neighborhoods and the LIVED EXPERIENCE (aaaahhhhh!) that this city can and has turned itself around before. I may be an old man when it happens - hell, I'm an old man now - but for my kids, I hope it does.
Another, from a New Yorker:
The issue is I would love to leave NY city fir either my condo in Florida or just liquidate the property we have and move to Israel .
While I would move my wife would not as our children are here in NY with their families . The entire situation in the states is just rotten politically , monetarily and the imminent danger of crazies walking the street .
While I deplore the drug issue but being an Orthodox Jewish family we do not have that problem within our family but we must watch our backs walking the streets with skull caps and dealing with the aliens from south of the border .
I am the only child of Holocaust survivors and while my childhood was really superior living in NY , the country does not seem as even a reasonable facsimile of the country I grew up in.
My family being immigrants voted Democratic down the line . Once i reached college age , both my wife and I have voted Republican / Conservative consistently .
My motto today about our demented weak Commander and Chief is that Biden is an acronym for:
Lori Lightfoot is the caricature of what Democrats have morphed into .
Their politics is just another cog in the wheel of incompetence ,and fiscal ineptness , while feeding a system lacking law and order .
I had to tolerate two terms of DeBlasio, who is just a male version of Lori Lightfoot.
I live this country but democrats make the bile rise in my stomach . Sorry for the long winded response .
From Washington DC:
My wife is a business owner in this city. She is not a person that scares or is discomfited easily. And now she is saying that the homeless, carjacking, and violence problem is getting to the point that she has had her fill and wants to move. It's pretty bad.
Last November, after 21 years in Charlotte, North Carolina, my wife and I moved to Greenville, South Carolina.
The move was directly linked to the tyrannical response, both at the state and local level, to the China Virus and the lawlessness which took over the downtown area – our place of residence – for the last 6 of our 21 years in Charlotte.
The sight of empty church parking lots – for years – and the slow deaths of our favorite, locally-owned restaurants combined with a dramatic increase in violent crime which began with weeks of riots and continue to this day highlighted by car jackings, street racing, and unmitigated vagrancy made the decision to move an easy one.
At the time Charlotte and the state of North Carolina was embracing full-on tyranny, Greenville, South Carolina was embracing freedom. The years of empty streets and boarded-up retail in Charlotte were replaced with a vibrant, clean, safe and well-managed city. And while not home to multiple professional sports franchises (who hate us) and skyscrapers, Greenville is a family-friendly, business-friendly, charming town.
Simultaneous with this move, and as a career land developer and builder, I have created a new brand of residential housing which outwardly celebrates American Patriotism. Each community will be named 1776 and will have protective covenants outlining the 1776 Standard which unites fellow residents in a theme of patriotism and unity. All homes will fly the American Flag. Each community will donate a home to a wounded veteran. My goal is to license the trademarked 1776 brand to other builders and developers who also see the need to unite and celebrate our collective patriotism.
Another Chicago native:
Chicago is my hometown. I was born there, and I've still lived the majority of my life there.
I grew up there, and I love and appreciate the opportunities I had being a "big city kid".
The first time I moved from Chicago was in 1996, when I was 17, to go to college. However, after college I was back, and I lived there again from 2000-2002, when I moved to Germany. In 2006, I was back again, and got married there and started a family there.
It's different now. Chicago has always been a "dangerous" city. I was in high school in 1995, which, until recently, was one of the deadliest years for murders. However, I kid you not, there were large parts of the city that were, for the most part, close to being as safe as Europe. I remember being a 16-year-old senior/high school graduate who looked closer to 12, hanging out with friends all hours of the night, and no one ever bothered us. We knew very well where not to go (which included the neighborhood where I lived) and how to behave ourselves in a way so as not to bother others. The Chicago that I lived was very much working or middle-class, very diverse, and very unpretentious.
Everybody knew the "Chicago Way" and everybody knew that the Daleys were as corrupt as the day is long. (I find it no coincidence that even nationally, one of the most potent - and expensive - cancer drugs, Avastin, I think, had some sort of federal support of it pulled a week after Maggie Daley's death...) However, there was still some sense that they took pride in the city, that it was their home, and that it was important that the city was livable for most people.
The middle class in Chicago seems to be dying quickly. Taxed to death, crime, terrible services, etc. Why would one stay? I do know people who are there but I still think they are crazy. My mom and sister are there. My sister showed pictures of the major streets around where I grew up after the rioting. If you didn't live there, you have no idea how bad it all was. Hearing the phone call Lightfoot had with the aldermen from a few years ago, I was brokenhearted to hear how incredibly extensive everything was... Chicagoans - at least north-siders - basically have to memorize lots and lots of street names and locations to get around well; to anyone else, they are just street names, but hearing something like "North Avenue from downtown to Homan" actually means something to me, as it's an area that stretches for miles, and which I can picture well, having walked up and down those streets so many times.
My first two children were born in Chicago. They are 13 and 11 now. The only thing I miss is being able to walk to multiple parks. Rahmbo's (Rahm Emanuel) election changed things. Very much a feeling of "if you don't do things the way WE say, we're not in the business of "tolerating" you". (Chicago Values - Remember the Cardinal George/Rahm Emanuel kerfluffle about that concerning Chik-fil-A? https://www.ncronline.org/blogs/ncr-today/cardinal-george-chicken-conflict) There was a suffocating sense of everything becoming political. My husband and I started looking at moving to Southeast Wisconsin, in the Kenosha area. In the midst of that search, he found a job in northern Idaho, and we left the city in 2012. My kids were 2 and 1.
We ended up back in the midwest a couple of years later. My husband's dad would never leave Chicago, and my husband didn't want to be too far as his parents got older. We moved to southeastern Wisconsin, and we've been here for about 9 years now. You would not believe the number of former Chicago people here! (And no, they are not liberal!) Truth be told, though, I don't even like going back to Chicago at all. The last time that we were there was last Pascha, where we went to Church at Holy Trinity Cathedral (OCA) - the church whose first priest, John Kochuroff, was the first priest martyred in the Russian Revolution. It was a beautiful night, the church was packed, and all was wonderful on the inside. However, as we processed around the church, I, with all five kids with me, was in the far back when my oldest son (who was born in Chicago) caught my attention and told me to turn around. He pointed to two men across the street from us. They were hidden in the shadows of the night and the mature trees, but they were fighting, and one definitely had the upper hand, and it looked as though the one was in the process of trying to strangle the other to death against a fence. It was only when they noticed that somebody was watching them, that the one let go and the two of them fled in different directions into the night. I can tell you that Division Street was a "no go" zone when I was in high school, but it became super trendy - even swank - in the early 2000s, so to see something like this happen in this place as 300 or so people were right across the street singing "Christ is Risen" was certainly a bizarre incident.
I weep for my city, but I don't want to go back there.
I can tell from this reader's e-mail address which city and state he's talking about. This surprises me:
My wife and I live(d) in a medium-sized city in a red state. The Summer of Floyd was relatively tame: maybe two nights of loud protests where the bars are, and one chain store gas station looted.
Our house was in an older neighborhood without any serious crime problems. It was nearly all single-family houses and lots of families--the kind of neighborhood where it was standard to have Halloween candy for trick-or-treaters.
The city's homeless population was centered in a downtown park. Once it was redeveloped, the homeless had to go somewhere else and increasingly it was our neighborhood. Almost overnight, strange men started walking down the sidewalk. Then came people passed-out on park benches, and not long after that the porch pirates and break-ins started.
Right after that my wife got pregnant. For unrelated reasons we sold our house--at a healthy profit, to a single woman with no kids.
Our son was born last fall and we are in the process of looking for another house. Our old neighborhood wasn't nearly as bad as Chicago or San Francisco, but as a new father I would never dream of moving my family somewhere like that. When looking for a house, my first thought is where my son will ride his bike and what he'll encounter. Because I work for the local schools I feel conflicted living in a suburb, but what's best for me and my house will carry the day.
The police aren't woke and the city government isn't out of control, but I also don't trust them to use a heavy hand when it's necessary.
This reader, I published his account of leaving Chicago last year. He writes to add:
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I, too, recall people enjoying Lincoln Park, but threatened with arrest if they approached the adjacent Lakefront. Also, the looted storefronts and increasing crime.
We made our final break with Cook County/Chicago about half year ago. Drive into in the City a couple times a month, usually for arts & culture. No regrets.
UPDATE: Another reader:
I spent over forty years working- but not living- in Washington DC. I closed my business in August 2020 because the idiotic mayor, Muriel Bowser, closed the downtown economy. On top of that, the George Floyd riots created a desolate downtown with thousands of boarded up windows and doors. My business was down 85 % due to government policy and my company was broke in five months. I will never return to DC, even as a tourist.
There's no denying that DC has improved as a city since the 1970s. It is no longer "Chocolate City" as proclaimed by at least one politician fifty years ago. DC no longer elects to office mayors of low quality like Marion Barry. Whites, all of them strident woke liberals, prefer to vote for honest black Democrats like Mayor Bowser. She is incompetent but not dishonest. Gentrification is widespread. Capitol Hill gentrification reaches to old RFK stadium and up to H Street, once one of DC's worst streets. Gentrification has transformed Logan Circle, U Street, Adams-Morgan, Columbia Heights, Shaw and Petworth in northwest DC. The gentrification around Catholic University has spread to most of northeast DC even to Rhode Island Avenue. The Potomac waterfront has been virtually re-made all the way to the Navy Yard. Massachusetts Avenue nearest New York Avenue has experienced extreme gentrification.
DC has many negatives. Property taxes are very high for the poor quality of services DC provides. The school system is terrible although some woke liberals send their children to public elementary schools to prove they are good lefties. Few dare to send their children to middle or high schools except in upper northwest. Essentially, the DC school system is a job program for middle class blacks with college degrees. Housing prices are astronomical. Dealing with the DC government is a nightmare. Crime is preposterously high. If you leave something in your front yard, it will be stolen. If you go out drinking at an Adams-Morgan club, you will have to watch your step going home. You might be bludgeoned. All elected officials in DC are extreme leftists.
I moved my family to a 28 acre farm in the mountains West Virginia four years ago and wish I did it sooner. Crime is virtually non-existent for most people. Freedom is absolute. Everybody has guns but nobody gets shot. Almost everyone is neighborly. There is always a river to fish nearby. It is so clean here compared to DC with its trash strewn all about. Property taxes are very low. People are polite and friendly.
It is not all golden. No place this side of Heaven is. Fentanyl is a problem and my county had a big drug bust last month of drug dealers who worked for a Baltimore drug gang. The lowest third of the young adults have an illegitimacy rate similar to inner-city neighborhoods. Grandparents often raise the children. Many of the lower third have drug problems. A decent restaurant is a half-hour drive away in Winchester(hometown of Patsy Cline, by the way). The local Mexican restaurant is the worst in the universe. The cook can't even cook rice correctly.