Streets of Chicago

 

 

“Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.”

 

― Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities

 

 

Marina City

 

It wasn’t until moving to Chicago did this ring so true. Until you experience the majesty of street life in a big city, it is hard to truly understand it. You definitely can feel it visiting, you may even notice that there is something different, but can’t quite put your finger on why. I noticed that my vacations from my home town of Memphis were always large cities: Chicago, LA, New York, London… I knew that I wanted to be in the cauldron of street life. Its being part of city life that you are actually shaping the city.

 

The built environment has a lot to with the vibrancy of street life as well. Think of a typical suburban strip mall. There is a lot of activity, but walking down the sidewalk you don’t get a sense of lively cohesion.  One of the most important parts of this built environment in modern North American cities is the Grid.  Chicago is one of the largest cities with a continuous grid throughout the city.

 

River North grid On Google Maps (Hampton Inn & Suites is marked)

Chicago’s grid is 1.3 degrees off true north.  If you travel northbound on a north/south street, you will travel just slightly west.  Not bad for the engineers that laid out the Chicago grid system using 19th century tools. You can actually see this on Google Maps! Take a look at the photo above, Find Chicago Ave in the upper left, notice how it jogs north the further east you go.

 

  • Some things to remember about the Chicago grid:
  • Every 8 Blocks equals 1 Mile & you will find an arterial Street
  • Every 4 Blocks is a major Secondary Street.
  • A Block is about 480 Feet. In downtown with the older blocks, it is closer to 400 feet
  • Even Numbered Addresses are on the West and North sides of each street
  • Odd Numbered Addresses are on the East and South sides of each street
  • Odd Numbered Addresses are on the East and South sides of each street
  • The intersection of State (0) and Madison (0) is the 0 / 0 block. If the original numbering system were done today, I am sure that the 0/0 block would be much further west. There are no east numbers north of North Ave because of Lake Michigan. I don’t think the 19th century planners could even to begin to imagine how much futher the city would grow. The city could only grow west because of the lake!

Look for the Chicago grid when you fly into the city.

 

 

 

 

 

The grid is part of street life in Chicago, but the grid would be nothing without the people that live in work in it. Think of the entrepreneurs with their business ideas, the actors & techs with their art in the theatres, the workers in the shops, the tourist with their cameras, the bar patron enjoys one last beer before getting on the train… The lively street life is why people come to big cities like Chicago. Just walk around River North for a few hours you see it all: world-class architecture (Trump Tower, Wrigley Building, Boyce Building, Marina City), fine dining (Sunda, Sushi Samba), the hippest of hip clubs that as so cool, they don’t even need a sign (Underground) & a lively street scene. This is why Chicago is always sure to surprise. 

 

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