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My kinda town

Like many US cities, Chicago is facing some tough challenges but it can look to its favourite adopted son as an example of how a single-minded focus can change fortunes for the better. 


For many of us, Netflix’s The Last Dance became essential lockdown viewing when it went live on the streaming platform what feels like three years ago (it was April).


The documentary charted Michael Jordan’s six NBA championships with the Chicago Bulls, his feuds with the Detroit Pistons and its star player Isiah Thomas, as well as his problems with gambling and abilities on the court.


It’s also a wonderful piece of ‘90s nostalgia – my favourite scene is when the comedian Jerry Seinfeld, then at the height of his fame, visits the Bulls locker room and quickly realises none of the players care who he is. The colour draining from his face at that moment is as hilarious as some of his best jokes.


Just as the Bulls succeeded on the basketball court almost 30 years ago, Chicago is succeeding in the smart city space today. Management consultant Roland Berger ranks it fifth in the world in its Smart City Strategy Index and it has also been lauded for its economic innovation and levels of foreign investment.


At the heart of this is Chicago’s Array of Things sensor network, which collects open data on climate, air quality, noise, traffic and urban infrastructure and hands it over to public and private developers to help fuel innovation on myriad fronts. Plans are in place to also gather information on the weather. It is just one project, among others, including updating access to its non-emergency services, closing the digital divide, increasing the use of renewable energy and providing free wi-fi.


It is a good example of a smart city strategy implemented correctly. Chicago has long-standing problems with poverty, inequality, racial segregation, education, social and digital exclusion, crime and unemployment, as well as ongoing problems with Covid-19.


To recover from the latter, the city’s mayor Lori Lightfoot has remarked it will require “nothing less than the most breath-taking recovery effort our city has ever seen”.


You can read more about Chicago in our latest City Profile. You’ll learn how the public and private sphere has come together to build the foundations of a transformational city by setting targets and working diligently to overcome obstacles. Its challenges are substantial, but it can look to its favourite adopted son as an example of how a single-minded focus can change fortunes for the better.


There’s no What I’m Reading this week because I’m on holiday in Northern Ireland visiting family. I’m hoping I’ll get the chance to read Octavia Butler’s Kindred or Michael Lewis’s Flash Boys.

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