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Chicago – confounding perceptions

Chicago_Oct 15

Chicago_Oct 15

Walking around down-town Chicago recently reinforced from me the age-old adage about not judging the book by the cover. In today’s fast-paced and always on society I wonder if we are forced to take a very superficial view of life and how we can work? Having spent a few days reacquainting myself with Chicago I compared my various trips to the Windy city. This time round, I came away with a much better understanding of what makes this place tick.

Looking back to my first ever visit in 1999 I was awestruck not only by the skyscrapers but by the size of Lake Michigan. Sitting in the aircraft on  final approach it took us ages to cross over this great lake. This stuck in my memory.  Chicago is also the home of the skyscraper. There are just so many of them. I wonder if the architects who came up with this design solution could foresee the impact that this type of structure would have on cities across the world?

 

This recent trip allowed me to discover the broader aspects of the city not just the down-town Loop area. A few days spent in the suburb of Schaumburg give me an alternative perspective. Its the home of many large corporate offices along with a pretty substantial  Woodfield shopping mall. The journey between Schaumburg and downtown and then back to O’Hare airport by car and by train afforded me the opportunity to see a good cross-section of Chicago. As all things American one can’t escape the scale of the place from its six lane highways to the 8 runway O’Hare airport. As one of the busiest airports in the world there are so many aircraft using it that the taxi ways should have traffic lights!

 

When you visit a city you should try to schedule some down time to take a walk around. It can produce some interesting insights. Looking out from a meeting room high up in the 80 storey AOL building I was struck by how much green space exists in the city centre. I suppose most people take it for granted. Determined not to fall into this category I made time for a stroll around the Pritzker Pavilion and the great lawn. As it was a nice autumnal day it made for a pleasant walk before heading off to the airport. Sitting down for a few minutes in the open-air auditorium it struck me that whilst the garden and the pavilion is overshadowed by a flotilla of towering skyscrapers is not dominated by them and it exudes its own special charm.

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For lunch on my last day I went back in time; well almost, as I was invited to the University Club of Chicago. Walking along remarkable wood panelled corridors and visiting some of its function rooms reminded me of the grandeur of London’s Pall Mall clubs. Visiting their Cathedral Hall reminded me of some of London’s  Livery Halls such Drapers. 

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I came away from Chicago with a much better sense of how this city of the American mid-west compares with other great cities. For me it a very good example of how to mix the new with the old and how they can complement one another. This not easy to achieve. Which, in my opinion, is the essence of smart city making. I didn’t really get it until this trip and was glad I took some time to open the cover of the book that is Chicago to find out more about it.

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