now in its one-hundred-and-eightieth year
Lately, there’s been an uproar about Rachel Shtier, a lady who wrote some jaded and dismissive remarks about Chicago for the New York Times, while ostensibly reviewing three books about Chicago. She has followed that up by writing in her own defense in the New York Observer.
Shtier’s attitude toward the city she lives and works in (she teaches at DePaul) points up a historical problem that has crippled Chicago’s cultural maturation: the problem of identification. Though a wonderful incubator of talent, Chicago is a town that too many talented people leave. They never fully identify with this place, never cast their lot in. Though hospitable to emerging talent, Chicago institutions are often meagerly rewarded with reciprocal commitment. Instead, the talent they invest in drifts away.
We all have conflicting loyalties. Many people who flourish in Chicago were born, raised, or schooled elsewhere; they feel the tug of earlier bonds. Others come here praying to be kicked upstairs: Chicago is a stepping-stone, a leap-frog city.
In a mobile society, securing enduring loyalty is a difficult thing. We may think that a quaint or archaic goal. Yet encouraging bonds of identification and affection is key to the future of the city. Just think how much more vibrant Chicago would be, if its best talent were to stay here in maturity.
That won’t happen without a much higher level of investment in the intellectual, cultural, and literary enterprises the city has to its name. Without a deeper, more compelling (and more lucrative) set of cultural and intellectual opportunities, the brightest and most creative Chicagoans will continue to leave. After all, a creative class cannot be fed by great restaurants alone.