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Steinberg: ‘Fourth City’ just doesn’t have a ring to it

Willis Tower dominates the Chicago skyline

Chicago's West Side stretches into the distance from the Loop. | Sun-Times file photo

“Third City.” Chicago hasn’t quite wrapped its head around that one yet, have we?

“The Third Coast,” yes. Particularly the fine Thomas Dyja history of Chicago of that name. Read it; you’ll be glad you did.

Otherwise, “Third Coast” is a bit shared, a bit greasy, like one of those loaner jackets at a fancy restaurant: too many other folks slip it on for anyone to be comfortable in it. Lots of cities on the Great Lakes use the “Third Coast” moniker. Cleveland has a number of “Third Coast” businesses. Milwaukee too.

To be honest, Chicago is still leaving claw marks on “Second City.” We were second in the United States in population for so long, beginning in 1890 and for most of the 20th century, behind New York, which was humiliation aplenty. We got used to it, with a little brother’s swagger. New York was so far ahead, almost triple the population, there was no hope of catching up. So we might as well turn the silver consolation prize into a point of pride.

Then Los Angeles scooted past us in — wait for it — 1982, which shows you just how hard we cling to former glory. We ignored the shift out of ego and because Los Angeles really isn’t a city at all, not a proper one but a vast agglomeration of contiguous places.

Then Toronto scooted by Chicago in 2013. Which we also ignored and rightly so. Toronto isn’t in the United States but a different country — Canada, a nation to our north, for those unfamiliar — and can be easily excluded by invoking the Nothing in Canada Counts Rule.

Still, no need to adjust ourselves to “Third City.” We might as well start getting used to “Fourth City” since Houston is breathing down our necks.

Newly released U.S. Census data show Chicago is the only city among the top 20 to be losing population, with 2,890 residents — a tenth of 1 percent but a decline nonetheless — vanishing between 2014 and 2015. That leaves the city with 2,720,546 people, if you count Rahm Emanuel as being both a person and alive and not some kind of strange animate corpse lurching around town trying to find a safe, sunless place to reveal himself and feed on the popularity of the living. But we need all the warm bodies we can get, so let’s wave Rahm in.

Houston, meanwhile, gained 40,000 residents in 2015, upping its population to 2,296,224. To show you how easy it is to ignore the peril, DNA Info declared that Chicago “still has a cushion as third-largest city in America.”

Yeah, for about a decade before we’re treated to the spectacle of Houston’s enormous, chicken-fried steak-larded heinie waddling past us with a wave of the hand and a condescending nasal Texan “Hasta luego!”

Houston! You know who lives in Houston? Ted Cruz. They love Ted Cruz in Houston. (Well, actually, they don’t. They hate Ted Cruz just like everybody else in America hates Ted Cruz. But they apparently voted for him.)

Where was I? Houston. Residents asked why they were leaving Chicago cited — in addition to crime and the finances in utter ruin and gridlock and a zombie mayor walking stiffly among the political undead — “the weather.” Chicagoans leave because of the weather? Really? Houston has, on average, 102 days a year above 90 degrees. In 2013, it hit 107 degrees. Chicago had one day 20 years ago that touched on 105, and we’re still talking about it. Yes, it gets very cold here, but that’s handled with the proper gear:. As I like to say, it’s never too cold in Chicago; you’re just under-dressed.

Houston already calls itself the “Third Coast,” which is used by cities on the Gulf Coast as well as Great Lakes, to show us what a diluted distinction it really is. “Third Coast” is like being Charlie Sheen’s girlfriend.

Trends reverse. All Chicago needs to do is fix its economy, schools, crime, police and entire social and financial structure. The weather we’ll have to live with, but if Houston can thrive despite theirs, so can we.