Aug 3, 2012

Chicago: a totally underrated, kinder New York

A world city with excellent flight connections but less hectic and more kind than New York. This is how I would describe Chicago. It is not as cosmopolitan as New York but suffice it to say that by 1890 it was the second largest city in America with 80% of its population being foreign born or first generation American. Taken over now by Los Angeles, it does not seem to have lost on importance given its excellent geography: it is in the East-West corridor in America  and any cargo within this corridor passes through Chicago. 

The Millenium Park "Falls" in Chicago,
a paradise for the children.

A view from the Chicago River and boat tours in Chicago.

Lake Michigan, on the shores of which Chicago is located, looks like a huge ocean with its clear blue waters. The city's white sandy beaches and the endless horizon gives it an almost Riviera flair especially when you see people with towels on their shoulders walking by it, a scene one does not associate with "Windy City" as Chicago is often referred to, not to mention the prevalence of beach volley. The beach side is also a favorite route for running men who show off their bodies:-) 

Michigan Avenue in the Loop, Chicago.

Chicago has been able to turn a disaster -the great fire- to an advantage by rebuilding the city and thus became the birth place of modern skyscraper. Today it is home to Reliance Building, Sears Tower and Hancock Center. In fact, "the Chicago window" was also invented here and the well-known architect Frank Lloyd Wright loved Chicago. Following the big migration of African Americans from the South, blues and jazz developed in Chicago. In fact, the city seems to have dominated the American film industry before Hollywood. It is still possible to see many theaters in many shows at every night. 

Bar of the Eleven City Diner in Chicago.

The city had also another thing to brag about: innovation. Apparently experiments in Chicago paved the way for an atomic bomb and the birth control pill preceding the Sexual Revolution of the 1960s was discovered here. Chicago also invented the concepts of department store and the mail order for the retail industry. (Crate and Barrel is from Chicago!). Interestingly, despite commitment to free markets and economic liberalism -Milton Friedman hails from Chicago after all- the city also has a strong tradition of social services for the poor. I was explained that this may be the outcome of its Irish population's Catholic devotion. While being Irish seems to be essential to be politically significant in the town, social services were followed by other social ideas such as urban sanitation; maternal health; education; establishment of first juvenile court in America and welfare. Even today, public libraries in Chicago look extremely beautiful. 

The University of Chicago, School of Law.

Favorite classroom of Professor Obama at University of Chicago
where he taught
Constitutional Law among others for over ten years.

University of Chicago School of Law's chilly corridor.

One can say that law schools in Chicago continue the tradition by working in their legal clinics for wrongfully convicted people and contributing to the overturning of death penalty in the state. Two of its many law schools (Northwestern and University of Chicago) also sent many graduates or law teachers as judges and justices to the US Supreme Court (Scalia and Stevens), federal appellate court (Posner) and even to the Presidency. Indeed, when visiting the University of Chicago, one can see the favorite classroom where Baracak Obama used to teach. In fact, I met many lawyers who referred to him as Barrack given his earlier work in law firms. Interestingly, President Lincoln just like Obama also practiced law in the city before becoming president. 

Art Institute of Chicago is home to Van Gogh.

Art Institute of Chicago is also home to Gaugin.

Despite all the free market rhetoric, a market failure is visible in the city's politics: Corruption and crime. Three of its former governors are in prison, probably not a suprise in a town where while Al Capone served for several years as leader of Chicago Outfit. Gang violence continues to be a problem despite strict gun control laws in the city. And if you are a lawyer, you should definitly go and see how justice is dispersed at 26th Street and California Avenue, at the county court. It has been the subject of an often cited book by Steve Bogira, Courtroom 302.

A view from a public library in Chicago.

Another public library in Chicago.

Chicago History Museum was my favorite place while the Millenium Park and the Art Institute of Chicago are also musts to be visited. The Art Institute has an incredible European and Asian art collection, especially of impressionists such as Manet and Monet, etc. Neighborhoods such as Armitage, Lincoln Park, and around Fullerton Avenue with cafes and shops are best explored on foot. While Gold Coast is dotted with mansions showing where the money is, Rockwell has a nice neighborhoodly atmosphere. According to the New York Times, Divison and Rush streets are referred as the Viagra Triangle. At the Cedar Hotel Terasse people appeared like they enjoyed the open air in summer:-)

While people waited for a while to eat the deep dish pizza, I did not see the point. The Thai restaurant Big Bowl has been my choice. Although headed for Bongo Room, I ended up in Chicago Eleven City Diner, the town's answer to Katz's in New York.  Overall, I found a very underrated city. Go and visit Chicago!