After returning from Boston last week, I expressed my displeasure with the city on Facebook, prompting a response from an old college acquaintance who lives there now. We exchanged barbs about our respective cities of residence, and he challenged me to defend my assertion that Chicago is the greatest American city. Since I am quite passionate about my hometown, and work at an institution that advances knowledge of the city, I composed a rather lengthy essay on the perks of Chicago that effectively silenced his criticism. Since many of my readers here also live outside of the Chicagoland area, I thought I'd pass my thoughts along to all of you.
Chicago is great because of its...
Chicago is home to some of the greatest cultural institutions in the United States, and the world at large. The Art Institute has one of the foremost collections of Impressionist, Post-Impressionist, and American art in the world. With the recent opening of the Modern Wing, their Contemporary and Modern European collections have an incredible new showcase. Chicago is also home to numerous other world-class museums, including the Field Museum of Natural History, the Shedd Aquarium, and the Museum of Science and Industry, not to mention the dozens of smaller institutions like the Adler Planetarium, the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Chicago History Museum, the Dusable Museum of African American History, the National Museum of Mexican Art, and the Vietnam Veterans' Art Museum.
Chicago fosters a vibrant music, theater, and dance scene. Several recent productions, including Aida, and The Producers have chosen to premiere in Chicago before heading to Broadway. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Lyric Opera are among the country's best in their respective fields. Chicago is also home to a number of music festivals during the summer, such as Pitchfork and Lollapalooza, and the ongoing free summer concert series held in Millennium Park.
Numerous films have been set in, or filmed in Chicago. To name a few: Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Risky Business, The Blues Brothers, Batman Begins, and The Dark Knight. And, I'm not really sure that it qualifies as culture, but Oprah lives and films here, and she's one of the most powerful women in America.
We have deep dish pizza. End of story.
Seriously though, Chicago is often pointed to as the rising star of the American culinary scene. The city is home to Alinea, often cited as one of the best restaurants in the world, much less the United States, and the restaurants of other James Beard Award-winning chefs such as Laurent Gras (L20) and Paul Kahan (Blackbird, Avec, The Publican). Rick Bayless has all of his restaurants in Chicago. You can also find any ethnic food you might desire in one of Chicago's neighborhoods, such as Chinatown, Pilsen (Mexican), Humbolt Park (Puerto Rican), Devon Street (Indian), Greektown, Little Italy, and others.
We also have Chicago-style hot dogs.
Our lake is so big, you can't even see the other side of it. We might as well live on the ocean. We have beaches. But we also get the benefits of being in the middle of the country, like being a major transportation hub, and reasonable flight times to the edges of the country.
Architecture, and Public Art
Chicagoans invented the skyscraper. We have the tallest one in the country
(although we were dumb enough to let them rename it the Willis Tower), and some particularly fetching exemplar such as the Tribune Tower and the Carbide & Carbon Building. The city boasts two phenomenal ceilings designed by Tiffany: the glass dome of the Chicago Cultural Center, and the mosaic ceiling in the old Marshall Field flagship store (now a Macy's.) The city is also home to public art furnished by some of the greatest artists in the world. Daley Plaza contains the famous Picasso statue, nearby is a statue by Joan Miro, and Millennium Park features the popular Crown Fountain designed by Spanish artist Jaume Plenza, along with Cloud Gate, which has become a symbol of the city, not to mention the new band shell designed by Frank Gehry.
I'll be the first to admit, I could care less about this aspect of Chicago. Still, we have two baseball teams with fanatical followings, a football team with a historic stadium, an occasionally decent hockey team, and what was once a legendary basketball team. We had Michael Jordan back in the day.
Because our city burned to the ground in 1871, we were able to start fresh with modern theories of city planning. The vast majority of our streets run north/south and east/west. You'd have to be an idiot to get lost here. Older cities (like Boston) have a more idiosyncratic layout that is somewhat European in its sensibility. City planning also gave us our large swath of lakefront parks, collectively referred to as the city's front lawn.
Say what you will about Chicago politics, but you can't deny that they keep things interesting. Richard M. Daley is a legend. He may wield near dictatorial power over the city, but he gets things done. Time proclaimed him the best mayor of any major US city in 2005. We're also the hometown of President Obama, the most powerful politician in the world.
Sure, Chicago has its flaws. Every city does. No place is perfect. But I happen to think Chicago comes pretty close, and despite all my travels, I can't think of another place I'd rather put down roots for any extended period of time.