We arrived in Chicago on Wednesday. Apart from everything being remarkable, big and American, they call the whole thing, suburbs and all, Chicagoland. That name sums up why everybody is there in a mythical sounding way. Compare with our “GTA” — it sums things up too but in a boring technocrat kind of way. I’ve been mumbling “Torontoland” to myself, to see how it sounds, and it sounds good, but would be too copycat, like the way Toronto Unlimited copied London Unlimited. Calling the GTA “Torontopia” might work, but it might be overused right now and the rest of the country would hate us more (and I’m not sure Thornhill should be included in Toronto’s Utopia — sorry). Any suggestions? If a good one comes up, we could start using it immediately — it shouldn’t take too long to replace GTA in the popular consciousness.
It’s hard not to turn a corner here and say “I wish Toronto had more of that” — the buildings here are fantastic. My favorite quote about this city (I forget who said it) is: “In New York City buildings went up because they had to, in Chicago they wanted to.” Each turn of a corner brings another famous building into sight (it’s fun to finally give each of them a relationship to each other — so far they’ve only been individual pictures in books) or another iconic piece of public art (like the Picasso at right that kids were sliding down).
Near our hotel in the Loop is the new Millennium Park (site of that photography ban). It’s built over top railway tracks, and forms the top part of Grant Park, a huge track of land along Lakeshore Drive (it includes that fountain from the opening of Married, With Children). In 1968 it was also the site of the huge protests during the Democratic National Convention and the “police riot” where the hippies or yippies got bloodied on then Mayor Daley’s order (the father of the current Mayor Daley). The American Left isn’t in the park right now (though they don’t seem to be anywhere else either) but Taste of Chicago is, so people are eating meat-on-sticks in the street.
There are thousands of people in the park day and night (until it closes at 11). A huge public art installation called “Crown Fountain” in one section of Millennium park has two massive LED video screens face each other across a shallow pool with waterfalls pouring out of the top. It was after 10pm, but maybe a hundred people were hanging around, wet kids playing in the water.
The first night here I drifted over to Ghery’s Pritzker Pavilion. There were maybe a thousand people laying on the grass in silence, listening to the symphony on stage. I walked through them to the cement stairs that lead to the seating area that was mostly full. No barriers, some people drinking wine, discreet security people wandering around not hassling anybody. It was a free concert, and people could sit everywhere, so I sat in between the grass and the seats. The mesh of steel above the seats and grass holds speakers, so the sound of the violin soloist fell like soft rain on everybody. All of this is surrounded by two straight kilometer long walls of skyscrapers, a perfect glittering background to all of this and reminded me a bit of how some of the buildings, including the sometimes-hated Sheraton Centre, frame Nathan Philips Square. Those people who were against Harry Stinson’s Sapphire Tower should be forced to come here and see how tall buildings can work wonderfully with public spaces and sometimes make them better. In Chicago they aren’t afraid of city-ness.
Of course, in contrast to this is the South Side. We drove through it, for more than 1/2 an hour, block after block of Detroit-style America. Doing that has tempered the Chicago-envy to a manageable level. Toronto might have a less exciting Opera House for some, but we spread the good out better.