In posting this Tribune opinion, I suppose I could ask one question. What happened?
Chicago's grit is the stuff of legend. The city's hard-scrabble history conjures images of wind-beaten dock hands; rugged immigrants working punishing factory jobs; and 500 acres of slaughterhouses and their hard-time killing floors.What happened to that gritty city of old? The city that was when I suppose my parents left the south to come up north to take advantage of the opportunities available. Of course this isn't necessarily about smoking up a storm at a neighborhood establishment, running a red light, drinking up all that bottled water, owning a gun at home, or even eating fatty foods. How did Chicago become soft?
At the same time, Chicago has always adopted a work-hard/play-hard mentality.
The city drank its way through Prohibition; its brothels became legendary, as author Karen Abbott detailed in a great new book, "Sin in the Second City"; and though Chicago today has a well-earned reputation for fine dining and cutting-edge cuisine, it is more known for sating its hunger with a greasy kielbasa, a thick steak, or an inch-deep slice from Gino's East.
But Chicago seems to have lost a bit of its hard edge. The town that poet Carl Sandburg called "a tall bold slugger set vivid against the little soft cities" has itself gone soft, thanks to meddlesome politicians and public health officials who think Chicagoans aren't capable of making their own decisions about health, risk and vice.
The fact is, a lot of "little soft cities" have become brassier and freer and, well, funner than Chicago.
At Reason Magazine, we recently took a look at how the 35 most-populous cities in the United States balance individual freedom with government paternalism. We ranked the cities on how much freedom they afford their residents to indulge in alcohol, tobacco, drugs, sex, gambling and food. And, for good measure, we also looked at the cities' gun laws, use of traffic and surveillance cameras, and tossed in an "other" category to catch weird laws such as New York's ban on unlicensed dancing, or Chicago's tax on bottled water.
The sad news, Chicagoans, is that your town came in dead last. And it wasn't even close.
Chicago reigns supreme when it comes to treating its citizens like children (Las Vegas topped our rankings as America's freest city). Chicagoans pay the second-highest cigarette tax in the country, and the sixth-highest tax on alcohol. Chicago has more traffic-light cameras than any city in America (despite studies questioning their effectiveness), restricts cell phone use while driving, and it's quickly moving toward a creepy public surveillance system similar to London's.