The Big Apple v. The Windy City

New York City, New York or Chicago, Illinois?

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Manu Kondapi

The Chicago Skyline, a view from the Willis (formerly Sears) Tower

Manu Kondapi, Associate Editor

There is a common consensus that New York City accurately captures the essence of America. It’s hardly arguable; NYC is known for its vibrant and energetic culture, romanticized in all the movies, and supposedly has the best cheesecake around (I can personally attest to that, considering my usual aversion to the dessert). I’ve met several people who dream of living there- to partake in the liveliness and culture that it offers and to spend their prime in the heart of the United States.

Granted, Chicago is still my cup of tea. Don’t get me wrong- I do adore New York City, but as a travel destination, not a permanent residence. New York does have an incredibly convenient public transportation system, Central Park, museums, Broadway, street art, and galore, but Chicago’s got quite a bit of that, and more.

At a young age, I made a mental list of American cities that I wanted to visit- Seattle, San Francisco, Miami, New York City, Philadelphia, Boston, Washington DC, and Chicago, to name a few. This past August, I was able to cross the last city off my list, when my family flew to Chicago for a wedding. It’s often said that we save the best for last, and honestly, I couldn’t agree more.

I fell in love with Chicago in a matter of hours- our first ride on Lake Shore Drive was breathtaking, as the impressive skyline opened to make way for Buckingham Fountain and then the expansive Lake Michigan. The 18.5 mile Chicago Lakefront Bike Path connects Southshore, Hyde Park, Lincoln Park, and Lake View, and includes access to beaches, boat rides, volleyball courts, soccer fields, and Navy Pier. The path is used for both recreation and transportation and is a popular place for people to train for the famous Chicago Marathon.

Within the city, Chicago should be noted for its impressive modernity and architecture, which can ironically be attributed to the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Though at the time a tragedy, the fire managed to bring out the best in architects from around the world as they worked together to create a new and lasting skyline. And when they were done rebuilding, they had done exactly that- creating an avant-garde monument that rendered many awestruck and encouraged others to emulate their style.

The city is a monument to modern art- not only due to its architecture, but also because of the number of sculptures scattered about. Cloud Gate, Crown Fountain, the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, and the Nichols Bridgeway are all located in Millennium Park, and they each add style and class that is incomparable in other cities. My personal favorite was Crown Fountain, an interactive video sculpture that consists of two glass brick towers (which use LEDs to display digital videos on their surface) that are separated by a black granite reflecting pool. The fountain provides both art and entertainment, as residents frolic in the water to escape the summer heat and also gather at night to watch and interact with the video sculpture.

One of the things that struck me most about the city was its cleanliness. That was probably the first thing I noticed after stepping out of the car, and my astonishment only grew as we walked towards Willis Tower. This is what I found- in Chicago, 2.7 million people populate 227 square miles, whereas New York is home to 8.2 million people in 304 square miles. That means that three times the population lives in a space only 30% larger in NYC. With a population density twice Chicago’s, it’s expected that New York will have a harder time keeping things clean. Additionally, Chicago has alleys, which cut up the city blocks appropriately and allow for the garbage to be hidden out of sight, unlike the mounds that obscure New York sidewalks. Store deliveries are made in these alleys, so roads are never blocked with large trucks, allowing for a smoother flow of traffic. (Ok, I’ll retract the smooth flow- traffic in Chicago is rough, perhaps not as bad as in NYC, but not much better.)

The best part is that every inch of the city is Chicago. The city isn’t split into elite boroughs, which label each other as undesirable, (Ahem, NYC… If you’ve ever seen Gossip Girl, you’re sure to have seen some of that Upper East Side pride and their attitudes towards the Brooklyn folks.) and the city does a pretty good job at integrating its 200 neighborhoods together.

Simply put, Chicago seems to encompass any person’s dream come true- seamlessly intertwining a bustling city life with the relaxation that can only be attained while lying on a beach soaking in the sun. Chicago impresses me because it’s a city that constantly looks toward the future, a city that is known for its originality rather than its antiquity, a city that fearlessly embraces change, both artistically and sustainably.