On Chicago

The Chicago skyline, as viewed from Wrigley Field looking south, April 5, 2011. Photo by the author.

I meant this to be a stand-alone post on Chicago, but life circumstances will also turn this into a farewell to that most quintessentially American city. Things have necessitated a homecoming, but I see it as being for the best.

Yes, I have now departed Chicago and returned home to Boston for now. Career-wise this is almost certainly the right move; the kind of work I want to do is based pretty much entirely on the East Coast, and now I’m that much closer to potential employers, etc. But I got a pretty awesome trip out of it, somehow accidentally theming it around baseball. Did you know that for some games tickets to Wrigley Field are as little as $8?

And then our road trip route took us past Jacobs Field in Cleveland, past the sign for Cooperstown (sadly, summer hours had not yet begun), and home to Boston, where Sunday night I was able to watch at Fenway as the Red Sox won their first (and to-date, only) series of the year. Against the Yankees, no less. But I digress.

Much of my thinking on Chicago as a city is reflected perfectly in a post from my old professor, Fredric Smoler:

It was thus a hyper-modern and ultra-American city, more modern and in a sense more American than New York, which predated the Republic. The quintessential American architectural form, the skyscraper, was invented here, and approaching the city from its airport the spires rise above the plain like Oz. L. Frank Baum had lived in Chicago, and I think it shows…

A fantasy of Chicago made a vast impression on people like Bertholt Brecht, for whom it symbolized immensely violent capitalist energies. Chicago no longer seems to evoke that intense energy in the minds of foreigners, or for that matter for too many Americans, and we seem to have also lost the once more varied sense of its history as well… Continue reading

Megalopolis

Last week I had the pleasure of attending another Chicago Council on Foreign Affairs event specifically for Young Professionals. In this case it was a conversation between all-around-urban-intellectual Greg Lindsay and architect Jeanne Gang on nothing less critical than “The Future of Cities.”

Lindsay just cowrote the book Aerotropolis: How We’ll Live Next with John Karsada, which at its most basic is about the coming airport-centric design and planning that will determine the future of cities and the course of twenty-first century urbanism. But even that mouthful of a description doesn’t really do the book justice. Reading Geoff Manaugh’s interview of Lindsay (and also, Lindsay’s of Manaugh), puts the book in a new light and raises a whole variety of additional interpretations to Aerotropolis‘ main theories.

The talk, however, did not focus solely on Lindsay’s book. After a rather stilted introduction from a local Boeing representative, Lindsay launched into a brief overview of the cities of the future. In the next twenty years more “urban fabric” will be created than in the entire rest of human history. And none of them will look like Chicago. They will be born into nowhere, separated from their surrounding regions. Continue reading