Saturday, September 10, 2005

Chicago we ain't

This week a couple of us had a meeting in Chicago for one of our projects. I love visiting there and it's been too long since our last trip.

Our meeting this time was right in the heart of downtown, in a high-rise office tower sitting right at the corner of Michigan Avenue and the Chicago River. It took us about 4 hours and 20 minutes to make the drive from St. Louis, leaving us ample time for lunch at the Billy Goat Tavern (Cheezeborger, cheezborger...No pepsi...coke!) Not knowing that the Billy Goat was made famous by SNL, it was pretty cool walking into the place and all of a suddent feeling like we were on the set with John Belushi and Dan Akroyd. The burgers? Not all that great.

Walking around downtown Chicago made me feel good about having such an awesome world class city so close to St. Louis. The architecture is awesome. The place is clean. The lake is beautiful. It's a great place to visit.

Our meeting ended around 3:00 PM. We got right back to the car ($23 parking for 3 hours), and starting heading down Lakeshore Drive toward I-55. We made it onto the highway easy enough, but then once we were headed southbound on I-55, it felt like we were driving through LA. We'd hit long stretches of stop and go traffic, slowed by highway congestion. Visually, the southern suburbs of Chicago are nothing special.

When we finally got through all the congestion, we were making good time travelling south across Illinois. Someday, I want to check out more of these small cities that dot the Illinois landscape. Illinois is a cool state. And the farmland is beautiful.

Passing the time in conversation with my driving companion, we were making rapid progress to St. Louis. The green fields and forested areas of our region become very noticeable. There's a rawer feel to the landscape in southern Illinois. It's especially noticeable in some of the swampier areas. And, there's nowhere near the sprawl feel approaching St. Louis on the Illinois side than you get on the outskirts of Chicago.

Then we were right across the river from downtown, with the city skyline spread out in front of us. Thinking of the massive downtown of Chicago we had just left compared to our much smaller downtown, I had a renewed sense of appreciation for St. Louis. Chicago's downtown sits on the shores of a beautiful lake, with sailboat filled marinas, and parks and museums on the city's front door.

St. Louis sits on the bank of a working industrial river. It's darker, and quieter. The Arch, the Eads Bridge, and Busch Stadium are the most recognizable features of our downtown. The Arch is our symbol to the rest of the world. It's an awesome public project. The Eads Bridge is emblematic of our rich history. And Busch Stadium says to everyone who arrives here that they have entered baseball heaven.

Now it was about 7:30 pm, and we were quickly passing through Lafayette Square, S. Grand, Shaw. We exited at Kingshighway and headed for home. Knowing that there were historic neighborhoods all around us made me appreciate how truly quaint a place St. Louis is. We're older and way more subtle than Chicago.

We'll never be a Chicago. Comparisons are pointless. We have Chicago as a weekend getaway. But we should never try to be like Chicago. Our goal should be to make St. Louis the nicest mid-sized city in the country. Over at the Commonspace, Amanda Doyle nails it when she writes in the latest edition of their online magazine.

St. Louis is someplace special, and it's a place where there's room for everyone to be part of making it even better.


Urban Review - St. Louis said...

I agree and disagree. To say we should not compare ourselves to Chicago is to say we should never look at them or bigger cities to look for ideas that may or may not work in St. Louis. Looking at other cities for good ideas or lessons on what not to do is a valuable exercise.

When we have looked at other cities we have taken good ideas and applied them out of context. We also like to compare to other cities when look better.

Older than Chicago? Is that really the case? But, isn't that a comparison?

Chicago does have things we should strive for. Greater population density. More attractions than just an Arch. Land values high enough that it is not cost effective to build massive parking lots. An appreciation for diverse architecture. Imagine if every new buliding in Chicago tried to look like a 1910 Frank Lloyd Wright house.

- Steve/

hiking companion said...

Hi Rick. I'm trying to put together a list of sites which help people to find a hiking companion in their local area; just like this one 'hiking companion'. I thought you might be able to help. Do you know of any other hiking companion related sites? Many thanks.

Rick Bonasch said...

You might check into the Confluence Greenway or Trailnet organizations here in St. Louis.