July 06, 2004

Chicago renaissance?

The pride of post-industrial American business is moving into an abandoned cosmetics plant on Chicago's depressed West Side. It will be the first Wal-Mart in the city.

On one level, this is a good thing for Chicago. Wal-Mart will employ people, although it won't pay them very much. It will sell things at low prices, although neighborhood businesses who sell similar items will go out of business. Most importantly, it will ensure that the neighborhood remains populated, if not prosperous, instead of being gradually abandoned altogether as has been the fate of large areas of the city's South Side.

So I suppose we should count our blessings.

One thing's for sure, though. Wal-Mart isn't going to be the savior of Chicago's old industrial neighborhoods. The jobs it creates and the products it sells aren't like those of the old factories that they replace. Those old jobs provided the waves of immigrants who lived in the surrounding neighborhoods with new wealth, which enabled them to save money, raise families and, eventually, climb the rungs of America's economic and social ladder. Those jobs were unionized and well-paid.

The Wal-Mart jobs, to a large extent, simply move the existing money around, subject to a healthy remittance back to Bentonville.

It's a good thing Wal-Mart has low prices, because the people in the neighborhood won't be able to afford to shop anywhere else.

Posted by Carey at July 6, 2004 10:24 PM

That area was already showing signs of a renaissance. My brother lives on the West Side, and while it has its share of urban blight and decaying buildings, there are a number of new buildings being constructed. How much do you want to bet Wal-Mart takes credit for this 5 years from now. You've been informed, the renaissance has already begun.

Posted by: Larry at July 7, 2004 11:56 PM