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It's the return of middle-city mania

OPINION

(Antonio Perez/Chicago…)
July 11, 2012|By Hector Luis Alamo Jr., For RedEye

Chicago is one of only three actual cities in America. You know its two siblings: The oldest is a hotshot businessman of some kind on Wall Street; the youngest is a glamorous movie star out in Hollywood who likes to surf.

As the middle city, our town shares traits with the other two but gets half the attention.

That's why many Chicagoans were deflated by 2010 census data that showed people actually had left the city in the previous decade. How could our beloved city be losing residents?

Rest assured, data released in June showed that Chicago grew by about 11,500 people in the period between July 2010 and July 2011. Yes! Chicago's got its groove back!

For many of us, being constantly reminded of the Second City's third-place status is the bane of our existence. And due to the perpetual ribbing and neglect, the city and its bullied inhabitants suffer from something like middle-child syndrome.

Chicago is always thinking up ways to stand out against L.A. and New York. For one, Chicago builds higher and higher. Just look at the New York-style pizza: We blasted it with gamma rays and mutated it into a 6-inch-high monstrosity you have to eat with a knife and fork. We'll pile anything on a hot dog—except ketchup, of course.

And we're die-hard sports fanatics, cheering on the city's teams in the drenching sweat of summer or in the biting numbness of winter. A win for the team is a win for the city, and no matter who played in the NBA Finals this year, we all know who had the best team. (Deep down, LeBron James knows it, too.)

Admittedly, there's also some jealousy mixed in there. The Big Apple is constantly referred to as the heart of civilization, the capital of the world, the soul of America's urban culture. You know, I get the feeling New Yorkers created those "I heart NY" shirts and hats just to torture the rest of us.

Meanwhile on the West Coast, L.A. residents enjoy beautiful weather year-round. The beaches are lined with palm trees and beautiful people who have their own personal trainers and plastic surgeons. Here in the Midwest, most people at the beach look like they have their own favorite spot to get an Italian beef.

Yet despite whatever's said about our gritty city, we find it hard to leave. We trudge on through the snow, we wade in the water at the pool like hippos to escape the heat, and we cling to railings and lampposts in the buffeting winds. There's just no place in the world like Chicago, and Chicagoans seem to learn that soon after birth.

People on the East and West coasts can talk up their cities all day, if they want. New York may be bigger and faster, and L.A. is definitely beautiful and sunny, but Chicago's got something they don't. Maybe it's something in the food or the lake water.

People are returning to Chicago for a reason; the middle child won't be ignored forever.

Just ask our middle-child mayor, Rahm Emanuel.

HECTOR LUIS ALAMO JR. IS A REDEYE SPECIAL CONTRIBUTOR.

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