Culture / Newsy

Houston’s Blowing By Chicago and the Windy City’s Outraged

3rd Largest City Change Has Barbs Flying

BY // 09.23.15

It’s inevitable — and everyone in Houston could see it coming for years. Still, the reality that Houston will replace Chicago as the third largest city in America has both South Siders and North Siders up in arms.

The recent confirmation that Houston is set to surpass Chicago by 2025 and take its rightful place behind only New York and Los Angeles in the American pantheon (or, at least, in population) is being taken about as well as you’d expect by Windy City denizens. “It’s hard to believe anyone could choose landlocked Houston and its brash, Lone Star State attitude over Chicago’s glimmering lakefront beaches, public transportation system and Midwest Nice culture,” the Chicagoist writes, sneer almost assuredly in place.

Even Crain’s Chicago Business — a publication known for its no-nonsense delivery of economic news — is getting into the act. Crain’s showcased a Reuters story that claims Houston is “hidden in the haze of the petrochemical plants and seemingly endless traffic jams.” Where’s that Midwest Nice, again? And Chicago — the land of the imperceptably moving crawl on the Dan Ryan Expressway and home of five of the 20 most congested roads in America — is giving another city grief about traffic? Really?

What’s next? Chicagoans bring back the tired argument that the Houston Rockets never would have won a championship if Michael Jordan hadn’t briefly retired?

It all seems sort of silly. After all, things have been trending this way for a while. The only surprise in this latest numbers analysis and census crunching is the idea that it will take another 10 years for Houston to pass Chicago. Experts as respected as Stephen Klineberg of the Rice University’s Kinder Institute have been forecasting this since at least 2011. Many thought it would happen before 2025 — and it still very well might.

This latest prediction, which calls for Houston to jump to a population of 2.7 million — while Chicago falls to 2.5 million – by 2025, is admittedly conservative. Klineberg — a star on the TED talk circuit as well — has been talking about “the Texas miracle” for years. The Windy City’s population downgrade should be no great surprise. Chicagoans have been staring at in the face — if only they bothered to look.

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Rob Paral, a respected Chicago demographer, lays out the reality of Houston’s rise and Chicago’s fall in sharp economic terms.

“The boom of Chicago in the 1990s was due to immigration,” Paral tells RedEye, a Chicago Tribune magazine. “You take away that catalyst of immigration, and you see what we have. They’re going to different parts of the country, and there’s much less immigration to the U.S. than there was decades ago. Texas, as an example, has been a magnet for a lot of lower-paying jobs and has the benefit of lower housing costs. If you’re making $15 an hour, the difference between making it where a house costs $100,000 and $300,000 is great.”

Chicago added 82 people last year (yes, 82). Harris County saw 104,517 new residents move in during that same time period, more than any other county in America. This train left the station long ago — and Chicago just needs to get over it.

Yes, you’re falling to No. 4. So? Houston did great things with that position. There’s no need for name-calling. We’re all adults here (except perhaps the guys who shun work and hang around at Wrigley Field all summer). Pouting’s so unbecoming, Chicago. Some cities apparently just don’t have the composure of Houston — all the more reason the Bayou City deserves to take over the No. 3 spot in America.

Sophistication doesn’t grow on a frozen lake.

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