If you had to sum up Chicago in just one word, it would be “Architecture”. As the third largest city in the United States, it’s also the birthplace of the skyscraper! Partly destroyed by the Great Fire in 1871, Chicago was inspired to entrust the reconstruction of its centre to its Institute for Architecture and Urbanism. By equipping the new buildings with steel frames and glass façades, this fairly avant-gardist school built up such a reputation for itself that people often now talk about the Chicago School to describe what has become an international movement.
Thanks to its Willis Tower, previously known as the Sears Tower, Chicago held the record for the tallest tower in the world for nearly 25 years. A striking architectural but also cultural, musical and sporting benchmark, it playfully maintains an atmosphere that combines upper class sophistication with the underground scene, a balance of unabashed bourgeoisie and creative non-conformity. Since the 2000s, thanks to a post-crisis process of gentrification, Chicago has managed to become the 4th richest city on the planet and demonstrates its renaissance through its countless renovated districts.
So the remarkable Millennium Park, once a railway yard, is just one of the many urban regeneration projects with different modules dedicated to architecture and modern art. After the decline of industrialisation and the abandonment of wastelands in the urban centre, some spots or even whole districts, among the 228 classed as community sectors across the city, have been given a new purpose: gardens, cultural centres and even entertainment complexes, like the Navy Pier, the former goods pier now boasting a big wheel, theatres, cinemas, shops and restaurants.
Housed in the west of Grant Park, the city’s largest park, the Millennium Park rubs shoulders with major cultural institutions such as the Art Institute of Chicago, the John G. Shedd Aquarium and the Field Museum of Natural History, as well as some of its most popular attractions: the famous Taste of Chicago, the largest food festival in the world, in July, the Grant Park Music Festival (hosting outdoor classical music concerts since 1931) and the Chicago Jazz Festival. Speaking of which, there’s a thriving jazz scene here, with the Chicago Blues, which has become popular on the other side of the pond, and the Chicago Blues Festival, in June, one of the city’s flagship events.
To demonstrate its commitment to the arts, Chicago boasts around 70 museums and cultural centres, including the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA), housing 6,000 exhibits, the Chicago History Museum, which tells the story of the city’s past (including its French history), and the Chicago Cultural Center, with its spectacular glass domes.
With sport running through its veins, the city is particularly fond of basketball, with its Chicago Bulls who play in the NBA, and baseball, home to the legendary Wrigley Field stadium. There’s also the Chicago Marathon, which is supposed to be one of the fastest in the world. Something that you might not know about the capital of Illinois, a business hub on the banks of Lake Michigan, is that it is home to 33 beaches, including the beautiful Oak Street and North Avenue with their paradoxically “natural” feel. Designed around wide avenues bordered by green spaces and 570 municipal parks, Chicago is particularly committed to combating climate change. Its landscaped pedestrian walkway due to be completed at the end of 2016, the Chicago Riverwalk, is an extension of this commitment. Richard M. Daley, who was mayor of the city for 22 years, always said that he would make the city the most environmentally-friendly place in the United States. Sweet revenge for somewhere that’s always been known as “the second city”.