18 June, 2012

Impressions of Chicago

What a big solid meaty town is Chicago. San Francisco has something ephemeral about it. Perhaps it's the fog that makes San Francisco seem like the Brigadoon of the West. Or that you often reach the city crossing two high bridges suspended over blue sparkling water. Well Chicago is nothing like that.

It is big and broad and has a thorough sense of itself. Feet on the ground. And none the worse for it. It is also old - a town where landmarks date from the early part of the 20th century if not before and are made of brick with ornate decorations. The 'L', suspended on 19th century cast iron weaves its way through old streets with mature trees. The views from the 'L' are rather like those over east London near Bethnal Green - my old route to work via Liverpool Street Station - backs of brick buildings, chairs and barbecues high up on fire escapes and rooftops next to the railway, quick views down city streets.

I loved Chicago as I love the working class, manufacturing cities of the north of England and Scotland, like Leeds, Liverpool and Glasgow. Self-made cities built on work not privilege. Cities with a strong sense of civic pride. I was told a story by a volunteer at the History Museum that after the fire Queen Victoria sent books as a donation to the presumed burnt library. But there was no library pre-fire - Chicago hadn't really been interested in culture. So when you walk past the fine stone building across from Millenium Park, you see an inscription dating the library's foundation from after the fire, presumably based around Queen Victoria's gift. Now of course it is a wonderful centre of culture (a lot of which we bored our poor younger daughter with).

And I loved our area - North Center. Old houses with front porches, small gardens, mature trees. Flat streets (thankfully as I couldn't manage SF style hills in over 90 degrees F). Families playing on their front lawns. Cafes and restaurants with tables outside. It was all very laidback and mellow.

I didn't get the chance to visit different neighbourhoods. For one thing, it was too hot. So loved Chicago, but would hate that climate. Too cold and windy in the winter (the 'L' stations have outdoor heating stations that work from November to March), and too too hot in the summer. And I know it isn't all good. I was staying in a comfortable middle class area but clearly not all of Chicago is like that. And Chicago politics is fascinating but jaw-dropping.

In summary:

Loved: the architecture, the 'L', the restaurants, the beach by the lake, the museums,  the boat tour and the Chicago river,  the neighbourhood, the parking outside the house (yay for no street cleaning) - last one only just become relevant again after arriving in Brooklyn. 
Did not love: the heat. How do mid-westerners stand it? And Lakeshore Drive - massive fast road blocking Lincoln Park from the beach - why? I mean WHY??? Idiotic town planning. Again!

1 comment:

Jimbo! said...

Your characterization of Chicago is spot on. We're proud of our imperfect but beautiful city and love to share it with others. I hope that your travels bring you back here someday so we can share more of it with you.