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Richard Longworth: What Makes Cities Global

Richard Longworth 

Distinguished Fellow, Chicago Council on Global Affairs

An Interview with Jacquelyn Ingrassia

Providence, RI, 5 April 2017 


Richard C. Longworth (BSJ57) is a distinguished fellow at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and former Distinguished Visiting Scholar at DePaul University. He is the author of the book, Caught in the Middle: America's Heartland in the Age of Globalism, published in 2008 by Bloomsbury USA, now out in paperback. Longworth joined the Council in 2003 as executive director of its Global Chicago Center after a career in journalism, most recently as senior correspondent for the Chicago Tribune. For 20 years, Longworth was a foreign correspondent for the Tribune and United Press International and was the Tribune's Chief European Correspondent. He has reported from 75 countries on five continents.


The Brown Journal of World Affairs: For unfamiliar readers, can you describe the work you have done for the Chicago Council and the work you did before coming to the Council?

Richard C. Longworth: I am a journalist by trade. I was a foreign correspondent for United Press International, and then Chief European Correspondent for the Chicago Tribune. I then did a lot of traveling around the globe, even when I was based here in Chicago. Foreign correspondents, I think, are generalists by nature, but all of us have one specialty that we’re interested in, like the military, energy issues, or other things like that. My interest always was economics, especially international economics, which has morphed over the years into globalization. Back in the mid ‘90s, I did some of the first work for any U.S. newspaper on globalization—a long series of articles on globalization—and wrote a book called Global Squeeze, which spun off those articles, looking at the impact of globalization on Japan, Western Europe, and the United States. That led into some work on global cities. In 1998, the MacArthur Foundation asked me to do a report on Chicago and globalization. The idea was that Chicago was not your granddaddy’s Chicago—not the old industrial “City of Big Shoulders.” The old industry had gone and that definition of Chicago along with it. But something was going on here; something was happening, and amid the apparent rise of globalization, MacArthur wanted me to answer the question: “Is Chicago a global city?” I did a long report called “Global Chicago,” which led to the founding of the Global Chicago Center, which was soon merged into the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. Five years later, I retired from the Tribune and joined the Council as the director of the Global Chicago Center. Soon after that I began looking beyond Chicago to the Midwest—I ended up doing a book, published in 2008, called “Caught in the Middle,” which looked at the impact of globalization on the Great Lakes states and especially the Rust Belt.  I spent a lot of time traveling around the Midwest and talking with a lot of Trump voters who didn’t know then that they were going to be Trump voters. Since then I’ve been doing a lot of work here at the Council on global cities: what they are and what they do. I wrote an e-book for the Council called On Global Cities. I am retired from the Council now but keep an office here and have a courtesy title of “Distinguished Fellow.”

Journal: Great. Can you explain the initial inspiration behind the global cities work at the Council and how you’ve seen it evolve since you’ve been working there?

Longworth: It spun off of this initial report for MacArthur. Once that report was out with MacArthur funding, we wanted to keep this work going, so MacArthur sponsored a book called Global Chicago, which, as far as I know, is the first attempt to really look at the impact of globalization on cities through the lens of a single city. There had been a lot of extremely valuable theoretical work on global cities as a phenomenon, citing examples from various cities. But our book analyzed this impact on Chicago’s economy, demographics, politics, even its art, using the city as a lab to document the change from an industrial to a global economy. We did this book, and then the Council did some other reports— especially on immigration, focusing on the Hispanic and the Mexican communities here and how to integrate them more fully into Chicago. This Global Chicago Center did a lot of this work for about ten years after it was founded, and it was moving forward at a rather stately pace. Then about three years ago we got a new president here, Ivo Daadler, who was fascinated by the role of cities in this new globalizing world and this whole idea of global cities. So, the seed that we have planted with Global Chicago has blossomed now into the full-fledged think tank study center on global cities that we have here at the Council.

Journal: Could you describe a few of the initial findings from the study on Chicago? How did globalization affect the city, and what were your suggestions with regard to the immigrant community?

Longworth: The first finding—the most important finding—was that Chicago is a global city. We’re mid-continental here, right in the center of the country. You’ve got to go a thousand miles before you really have to speak somebody else’s language. You can dive into our inland ocean, Lake Michigan, and swim across it, and you’re still in the Midwest, so it took a long time for people to realize that things have changed. From being very much of a place-based city with industry that drew on raw materials and people from around the Midwest and produced goods that were largely sold in the Midwest, we have suddenly become one of the hubs of the global economy. With these huge immigrant communities, we have not only Hispanics, but scores of other ethnicities here, that are in constant contact through modern communications with people back home. Moreover, our universities have a global reach, and we are home to the headquarters of many sizable corporations. The development of these global ties has compelled us to start thinking about ourselves as a global city. These days here in Chicago it’s all “global city, global Chicago.”

Journal: Following up from that, can you explain what your personal definition, and by extension the Council’s, is of a global city? What makes a city global?

Longworth: There are a lot of different definitions on this. We do have a specific definition. Brookings, of course, has its Global Cities Initiative, which does very valuable statistical work. But this deals with metros of all sizes, big and small. In a way, of course, they’re right. All cities are global these days. The global economy affects them all, for better or for worse. But our theory, what we’re working on here, is that there are certain cities—a handful, maybe 60, 70, 80 around the world—that run the global economy.

I don't know if you're familiar with the work of Saskia Sassen [editor's note: Sassen has contributed to the Journal on multiple occasions, including the Spring/Summer 2017 issue], but she's been important in our thinking—the idea that these are the places that govern the global economy, where the orders are given. They are the central points, what Saskia called the “strategic sites.” They are the hubs, so to speak. One metaphor we use is that of airports. Every city has an airport, big or small. But some airports are simply more central and more important than others. And we call them hubs. In the same sense, every city is a global city, but some cities are simply more important to this process. If you're in Indianapolis and you want to fly to Beijing, you're going to go through Chicago to do it. If you're in Indianapolis and you want to do business with Beijing, you're probably going to go through one of the law firms, the consulting firms, or the markets here in Chicago or New York or some other great global city. These global cities simply stand astride the global supply chain. And not that many, as I said. If you really want to be restrictive, in the United States there are three: New York, Chicago, Los Angeles. Let’s expand that: you’ve got Washington, San Francisco, Atlanta—maybe Boston—that's about it. Again, in Europe, you've got London, Paris, probably Frankfurt. You want to expand it a bit, you'll get Stockholm and Amsterdam. Tokyo and Hong Kong, of course, plus Singapore, Beijing, Shanghai, Sydney and Toronto and so. These are the cities with the most corporate headquarters, the major universities, the most potent culture, the most globally-minded governments. Again, any number can be involved in this. All cities have corporations, universities and museums, and ranking global cities has become somewhat of a parlor game for academics. But there are limits. There are cities that really do exist as the centers, as the hubs of the global economy, and the other cities feed off of them. We find this a useful way of breaking it down. The University of Loughborough in England was first at this—their Globalization and World Cities initiative first began to do some very valuable academic work on this. But so far as I know, we are the only center anywhere that's really working on this exclusive definition of global cities. 

Journal: What is the goal of looking at global cities through that more narrow lens?

Longworth: You don't understand the global economy until you understand the role of cities in it. You couldn’t understand the industrial economy until you looked at the cities that pioneered the industrial revolutions, and became the economic locomotives pulling their whole regions and nations behind them. Similarly, with a global economy, there are certain cities that make that happen, that have the international contacts and global reach to transcend national boundaries. We’re realizing that cities like Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York are not independent city states, of course, but they are also not fully embedded in their nations any longer. They have an existence outside their national settings. Chicago is in touch with and can go over the head of our state government or our national government to deal with other cities around the world. We probably have closer ties right now, say, with Mexico City or with Shanghai than we do with St. Louis or Indianapolis. There are certain things that we have interest in, that we can best talk with other cities of the world about—one of them being climate change. Take the example of the C40 group, to which Chicago and many other cities belong, which demonstrates what cities can do on this issue of climate change. We're not getting a lot of guidance or help on that from Washington. This was true even under the Obama administration, in part because of the limitations of national government to act on these issues. The Trump administration seems hostile to the very idea of action on climate change and the environment. But we’re in a city. We're living with this. The impact of climate change is very real. Cities have to get down to work and do something—it's like filling potholes. It's not an ideological thing; it's just something that we must live with and that we're in a position to do something about. We're interested in talking with people who think like we do, and increasingly, we're finding that there are other likeminded cities around the world.

Immigration is another good example—the whole phenomenon of sanctuary cities. We here in Chicago and in the other cities have a vested interest in being open to immigrants, to drawing in immigrants, and to using immigrants to further our economic and social vitality. This has happened in Chicago, and we want it to keep happening. We've got an administration in Washington who threatens that. What do we do? How can we work? Three mayors from Mexico were here in Chicago recently to talk with the Chicago city government on how to work this out and how to protect Mexican immigrants who are living here. This is not something that we're talking with Washington about; we're talking with city governments from around the world.

Journal: Can you elaborate a bit more on how you see immigration being beneficial for cities like Chicago? How you see the role of sanctuary cities changing in the future?

Longworth: I wrote once that Chicago has big immigration problems, affecting policing, schools, housing, health care. And then I wrote that Cleveland has a bigger immigration problem. They don't have any. This is part of the broader impact of globalization. Globalization brings benefits, and it brings drawbacks too. We’re working very hard at providing healthcare, education, and other services to immigrants, but we feel it is so much worth the effort. I've seen this personally: my wife and I were living overseas until 1976 when I came back to join the Tribune. Chicago in those days was really the buckle on the Rust Belt. It was grey, grim, rusting. It was a city that was dying out. That’s changed. Chicago’s problems, especially in the inner-city neighborhoods, are well known—but that description of a grey, grim, dying city no longer fits, and one of the reasons is this huge influx of immigrants revitalizing whole neighborhoods and revitalizing suburbs. Fifty percent of our Hispanic immigrant population lives in the suburbs. Michigan Avenue, our big shopping street, is still the number one shopping street. But the second biggest money-spending shopping street in Chicago is 22nd Street, right down the middle of a Hispanic neighborhood, creating jobs, creating businesses, and simply adding a verve and a vitality to the city that we didn’t have. In cities that lack immigrants, you don’t see the same level of new money, new ideas, and new blood that modern Chicago demonstrates. So, it's very much in our interests to attract immigrants—not only Hispanic but from all around the world—and not only PhD researchers, but also the kinds of people who live in neighborhoods like Pilsen and Little Village, who are starting small businesses, running restaurants, building our houses. That's all part of our vitality; we want more of them, and anything that threatens that, which the Trump administration's immigration policies seem to, gets our attention.   

Journal: Given these benefits of immigration, how do you see cities working to accommodate a bigger influx of immigrants?

Longworth: We've done some studies on this. One of our earlier studies for the Global Chicago Center was on the Mexican community here and how to draw them more into the economic, political, and social life of the city. Chicago, of course, is a city that, in the industrial age, thrived on the labor of all the Poles, Lithuanians, Slovaks, and Croats who came to work in the industries here. These immigrants settled in Polish and Slovak and Croat neighborhoods but over the decades, over the generations, moved into positions of full participation, and then leadership, here in Chicago. Now we want to do this again.  We want to work with schools to keep these kids in school, to make sure they go on to college. One issue here is this whole question of remittances. We want to close the cultural and economic gaps between the Hispanic community and the older city. As you know, Mexican communities send a lot of remittances back home. Many people, including leaders of the Hispanic community, would like to see more of that money being invested here in Chicago, to help build these communities themselves. How can we get banks to do business in these immigrant communities so that people will be able to buy homes, to buy businesses, to borrow instead of dealing with the usurers, who exist when banks don't. I think the thing to do, how to best integrate immigrants of all nationalities into a city, is to be open to them. Say, “Welcome. It’s a good place to live and work and we want you to be true Chicagoans, not outsiders.” And then let nature take its course because this is what we have found over the years. The first generation of an immigrant community is very much centered on its own nationality and its own neighborhood. The second generation gets education, goes to college, becomes established, often intermarries with other nationalities and moves out of the old neighborhood. The third generation becomes leaders, not only of the ethnic community, but of the city itself. We see that happening here in Chicago with the Mexican community. It's kind of an organic process. It works pretty well. As I mentioned, I lived overseas; I lived in Europe for many years. I've seen the process of immigration in countries like Germany, Italy, France, the Netherlands, England—they don’t do it very well. There's more of a separation from society than an integration into society. Immigrants who come here are tossed into the melting pot, as it were, and you can get burned in that melting pot: it’s tough. They are told, “You will become Americans, you will become part of this country, you will assimilate because life is tough.” And it’s very hard. But you know what, it works. It works better than in other countries because we've had generations of immigrants who come here and become full-fledged members of society, which is what we want and what we want to continue happening. And this process, of tossing them into the pot and pushing toward citizenship, is why any comprehensive immigration reform that we come up with in this country has got to have a path to citizenship. That's what we want; we want them to be full members of society.

Journal: What would you say in response to the argument that the influx of immigrants into cities takes away jobs from people currently living there?

Longworth: Well I think you've probably seen the academic work on this; some say yes and some say no. I think David Card and others have done good work arguing that this effect is minimal. Other people like George Borjas say it does have an effect, because it hinders the ability of native born Americans to get low-wage jobs. There isn't an awful lot of evidence that they are taking jobs away from Americans who want them. But there is some evidence that they are lowering some wages, mostly of high school dropouts at the bottom of the labor market. Maybe the moral of that story is that people should stay in high school. Overall, there is just not enough evidence that they are having a negative impact that is big enough to justify restricting immigration.

I've done a lot traveling around the Midwest, including some of the meatpacking towns: the fact is that the immigrants who do most of the meatpacking work are taking jobs, from everything that I can see, that the locals don't want to do. It's dirty; it’s hard work. Immigrants are being exploited by the meatpacking companies. It is sort of a willing exploitation. I don't want to paint this as a pretty process—it's not. But the fact is that it does seem to be working. You get people coming here, bringing their families, working these terrible jobs, and the kids get an education and move on to something better. This is what the people who came from Mexico, or other countries, want to do. And it is what's happening.

You do not get much opposition to immigration in places that have immigrants. Immigration is not a political issue here in Chicago. We don't fight about it. We welcome people; we know we need them. I'm not saying that everybody in Chicago is friends with everybody else. This is the history of places like Chicago: we bring people from all over the world and settle them down using separate neighborhoods, which are often quite balkanized. We don't insist that they love each other but just that they work side by side, and that's the way it works. Certainly, that goes on now, and nobody in Chicago is in favor of sending them back as the Trump administration would like to do.

I've been in a lot of these old industrial cities around the Midwest, you know Muncie, Rockford, Youngstown and places like that. There is a hot opposition toward immigrants and immigration in those places, but the fact is that they don't get many immigrants. And they don't get many immigrants because these are places where the economy has gone away, the industry or the corporation of the company that supported the city in the industrial era has gone away. These are very depressed, very sad places, and they don't have jobs, so they don’t get immigrants. Immigrants go where there are jobs. Immigrants are both the cause and effect of economic vitality. People go from Mexico to Chicago or other cities and then they phone home and say, "Hey there are jobs here; there's work here. You can come; there's a place for you." You don't get that sort of buzz out of the Clevelands and Detroits, and as a consequence, they are not getting a lot of new immigration. You get a lot of opposition to immigration because they are perceived as a threat, but I would argue that they are not that much of a real threat.

The perceived impact of immigration promoted the vote for Trump in another way. There's an honest patriotism in many of these old Rust Belt cities, and globalization threatens that patriotism. Globalization emphasizes open borders, a global economy, and global citizens. We are proud now of the way we move around the world, and of how we’ve left American ties behind to become citizens of the world. In many parts of the United States, certainly around the Midwest, this isn’t the prevailing emotion. You have people who feel deep patriotism: these are the people who fly the flags in the front lawn. And the idea of open borders, of unimpeded immigration, violates this sense of patriotism. This ties into the economic threat or perception of threat, but it is also separate. It’s a complicated business. Again, I think you would probably find people in Chicago who would respond to this patriotic appeal. But the economic appeal is not that strong.

Journal: To pivot back toward climate change, how do you see global cities and cities in general working together to tackle climate change in the face of the current administration? 

Longworth: I think there’s an awful lot that cities now have to do on their own without asking Washington’s permission and probably without asking for its help. We can certainly use federal funding but I’m not sure we’re going to get it. Cities generate more greenhouse gases than anybody else just by sheer virtue of our size. We have more people, more buildings, more cars, more factories, more chimneys, and so we generate more greenhouse gases. At the same time, we are the ones that are most impacted by these greenhouse gases. We have to live with them. So  we’ve caused part of the problem ourselves, and we’re going to have to solve part of the problem ourselves. Of course, we would love cooperation and help from Washington and from other countries. We would like to see our national government making deals with other national governments, including China and India, to work on this. But if this isn’t going to happen, then we don’t sit here for four years or eight years and do nothing because by that time it will be too late. Other cities around the world are in the same position. Anybody who’s been in Beijing knows the pollution problem there. In India, the other Chinese cities to some degree, and some of the European cities, certainly in the Latin American cities and places like Mexico City, they have pollution problems. We have to work on this to make these cities livable. Increasingly, people want to live in cities; people are moving into cities, but we have to make them livable, and we have to make them healthy. And if we’re going to do that in this political climate, we’ve got to do it ourselves.

And so, by joining with other cities, it’s not that we will send some of our clean air to Beijing or anything like that. But we can work with these other cities to find out what they’re doing to prepare for climate change and to reduce the impact of climate change. Here in Chicago for a number of years we have been looking forward, if that’s the word, on the assumption that by the year 2050 our climate is going to be much closer to that of Houston now. So what do you do about that? How do you work on your sewer system to be able to handle the probably more violent storms and the flood of water? How do you construct your buildings to be more resilient? Do we want to put gardens and green spaces on top of our buildings—which we are doing increasingly? What kind of trees do we plant? You know we don’t plant the trees that worked 30 or 40 years ago. They may not survive in this new climate. How do we reconstruct our streets so that they can be cleared after a storm? Or what kind of materials do we use on the streets to be able to withstand severe weather? All these things. Very small things, but they all go together, and they all are changed by the current environmental situation. And if any other cities around the world have some good ideas, we want to know about it.

Journal: Do you see communication across cities as an integral part of climate change efforts?

Longworth: There’s a lot of that—the C40, for example. There’s a number, as you know, of these international organizations of cities springing up. A lot of them have to do with environmental issues because this is seen to be an area where cities can really make a difference. It’s not as though they are working together in a single government—this is not global government by any means, but it is a sort of global governance, beginning with an exchange of information in a very useful way.

Journal: I have one more general question. Could you please elaborate on what you see as the biggest pro and biggest con of the growth of global cities recently?

Longworth: The greatest pro, I think, is that cities are the new engines of the world economy. Once Chicago and the other great industrial cities were the locomotives of the national economy back in the industrial era. Now we are the engines of the global economy. The big question, of course, is can we pull whole societies behind us as we did in old days? Perhaps we are outposts rather than locomotives. But either way, cities are where the action is. Global cities are the places that have the cooperate headquarters. They have the universities. They have the major airports. They have the best communications. They have the best media. They generate the world’s fads and styles. This is what drives the global economy and to be in a global city like this is not only important but rather very exciting.

There’s two big drawbacks to this that are very evident: one is that globalization is such a divisive force. It creates rich. It creates poor. It creates a greater gap between them. It divides countries from countries. It divides countries from themselves. As we’re seeing, it is dividing citiesprobably more so, because anything that happens in this global economy, good or bad, happens most dramatically in cities. We are seeing this here in Chicago, as everybody knows. We have this terrible situation, with this glittering, modern, global city where perhaps one third of the city lives, and then, literally within sight of that, three or four miles away, you have the inner city problems, crippled by unemployment and by all the problems that go with unemployment: the drug use and increasingly the violence. These people living with this are mostly African Americans who are the descendants of people who came north during the Great Migration to work in the great factories, the steel mills, the stockyards of Chicago. That earlier generation found those jobs and created a society and a civilization. Then about 30 or 40 years ago that economy went away. The young people who are shooting each other now on the west side of Chicago are the descendants of those early migrants who came here for economic betterment. Now, three or four generations on, these descendants are left with no economic prospects in life.

You have immense wealth downtown. And you have not only immense poverty but immense hopelessness out in the neighborhoods. And this is a factor of globalization. You see it happening now around the rest of the Midwest, in white cities as well as African American cities. With people being left behind, the people I was talking about who work in these old factory towns—where their industries and their companies and their very economy have left town—they’re stranded there left pretty much with nothing but their vote. So, trying to do something about this is our great challenge. What we do about the Youngstowns, the Muncies, these old industrial towns—I have no idea. I’m sorry, I wish I did. Here in Chicago, and in the other cities, we can do something about it, because we have the resources. This is a very rich city, and our challengeour obligation—is to spread these resources throughout the city and make them benefit everybody who lives in the city. There is probably no way of doing this except through private investment. It was the private corporations, the private sector, that abandoned these neighborhoods. And it is only the private sector that’s going to be able to cure this problem. They’re already doing a lot on philanthropy, but that’s putting Band-Aids on the wounds. I’m talking serious investment. This may require a rethinking of the American commitment to shareholder value, to include stakeholder value or community value. We are in a new economy after all, and this may involve new rules and regulations to work. Otherwise, we are left with this huge inequality and division in the city, which is probably not at all sustainable.

A second problem, if I may mention it, is what we’re seeing now around the country politically. You’ve seen those post-election maps with this vast sea of red, with a few isolated blue dots. But those blue dots are the cities, plus some state capitals and university towns. They look isolated. But they are the commercial and intellectual centers of the country. They have most of the nation’s economic power, but so far are politically powerlessan imbalance that must be corrected. Chicago occupies something like 3 percent of the territory of the state of Illinois and produces something like 65 percent of its GDP. So we have a lot going for us. But we are surrounded and limited by this immense red sea of resentment against the cities. We see this in our state elections and we see it with the election of an administration in Washington, which seems hostile to the very openness that is inherent in globalization and, indeed, is our lifeblood. How can cities survive and thrive when surrounded by this new populist fervor? This is something we haven’t even begun to figure out.