Chicago is a big city—approaching three million in population—but has been called the Second City since the 1950s, when a New Yorker article by the late A. J. Liebling asserted that Chicago could never measure up to New York, period. By then, Chicago had already given the world the car radio, large-scale mail-order sales, and a futures and options exchange (where contracts for pork bellies, for example, are still bought and sold). This past decade, Chicago’s livability and environmental stewardship have earned it a more modern street cred. Nonetheless, last year the city lost an important popularity contest, being passed over as the site for the 2016 Summer Olympics.
The museums are fabulous, the arts scene—symphony, opera, Art Institute, Museum of Contemporary Art—is rhapsodic. In short, there’s a lot here. As Ponce puts it: “We have the necessary critical mass for vibrancy.”
That includes major sports franchises—the White Sox, Bulls, Blackhawks, Cubs, and Bears—and a rowdy politics that Ponce calls “the real blood sport.” At the city’s political heart is Richard M. Daley, currently in his sixth term as mayor. Daley proclaimed Chicago the “city of the future” in both opportunity and quality of life. To him, the latter meant going green, and a decade ago he ordained that the roof of City Hall be transformed to reflect the city’s motto, Urbs in Horto (City in a Garden).
Catch sweeping views of Chicago’s skyline from the 103rd-floor Skydeck on the Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower), tallest building in the Western Hemisphere at 1,450 feet. “Chicago’s architecture is breathtaking, literally,” says James Conaway, author of “Chicago: American’s Green City,”
2. The Nichols Bridgeway
The Nichols Bridgeway extends over the world’s largest green roof to Millennium Park.
3. “The Bean”
Sculptor Anish Kapoor named his shiny Millennium Park landmark the “Cloud Gate,” but native Chicagoans call the sculpture simply “the bean.” Its steel surface reflects the park’s lush gardens and courtyards that run along Lake Michigan.
4. Chicago Museum of Science and Industry
Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry is among the world’s largest science museums, where kids can explore nearly 14 acres of interactive exhibits, learning, for example, how the human heart functions by stepping inside a 16-foot replica. The collection, encompassing more than 35,000 artifacts and permanent exhibits, includes the U-505 submarine, the only German U-boat displayed in the United States.
5. Morning Commuters
Morning commuters pass under the city’s elevated “L” train, the second largest fast-transit system in America. Chicago residents, besides depending on the train system for transportation, also ranked it third among Chicago’s top seven wonders, after Wrigley Field and the Lakefront, in a Chicago Tribune poll.
6. Chicago River
The London Guarantee Building offered photographer Melissa Farlow an overview of the bustling Chicago River coursing through downtown. The building is one of four 1920s-era structures flanking the North Wabash Avenue Bridge, visible in the foreground.
7. Crown Fountain
Students take a break from a program at the Art Institute of Chicago to play in the water flowing from the video-enhanced Crown Fountain in Millennium Park. The fountain, lauded by some for its technological innovation, has also been criticised for clashing with the park’s aesthetic.
8. Frontera Grill
The artsy tequila bar at Frontera Grill distinguishes one of chef Rick Bayless’s three Chicago restaurants offering different twists on Mexican cuisine. The restaurants reflect the city’s green bent with subtle innovations, such as the use of LED lighting. But “people don’t get lectures on environmental ethics here,” Bayless says, “just good food.”
9. Navy Pier
A young couple share a kiss in a gondola of the 150-foot-high Ferris wheel on Navy Pier, which juts into Lake Michigan from the Chicago shoreline. The pier, built in 1916, offers such attractions as the Smith Museum of Stained Glass Windows, The Children’s Museum, and the AeroBalloon, an anchored helium-filled balloon that floats above the lake.
10. Lake Michigan Shore
A father and son skip rocks along a stretch of Lake Michigan shore accessed by the Lakefront Trail, an 18-mile paved walkway from Hollywood Avenue to 71st Street. The popular trail attracts runners, bikers, skaters, and walkers.