Chicago's diversity in culture, both in terms of
ethnicity and of artistic aesthetics, reflects the wide system
of roots from which it has evolved. Settled in sequence by Native,
European, African, Asian and Latin Americans, and crafted over
a hundred-year period through a hybridization of Victorian, French
Second Empire, Queen Anne, Belle Epoque, Edwardian, Modern, and
Postmodern social precepts, its tapestry contains a deep richness
of heritage. This textured blend, sometimes synthesized but often
reflected in a heterogeneous eclecticism, remains latent but prevalent
within the city's uniform grid of streets and carefully pruned
downtown showplaces. Multiculturalism jumps to life especially
in the "neighborhoods", those communities away from
the downtown center that retain indigenous history and identity.
Fine Arts, scholarship, and the celebration of scientific achievement
have long had a home in Chicago, highlighted by such keystone
institutions as Northwestern University (founded 1855), the Art
Institute of Chicago (1879), the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (1889),
the University of Chicago (1891), the Field Museum (1893), the
Museum of Science and Industry (1893), the Chicago Public Library
(1897; relocated 1991), the Ravinia Music Festival (1911), the
Lyric Opera of Chicago (1954), and in more recent times the Chicago
Film Festival (1964) and the Steppenwolf Theater Company (1976).
The informal culture of Chicagoland and its colorful reputation
carries at least as much weight in popular consciousness as its
gentility or its major contributions to the global society. A
place associated in the contemporary worldview with glamorous
organized crime, blockbuster professional sports and notoriously
extreme weather, Chicago actually lives its day-to-day life with
an unpretentious, no-nonsense rhythm largely unimpeded by spectacle
and at ease with extravaganza. Locals and tourists alike enjoy
the bustling commerce of North Michigan Avenue and the rush of
the summer festival season; the demeanor of many Chicagoans is
an even mix of Great Lakes know-how and Great Plains congeniality.
Although dubbed "the Windy City" because of the loquacity
of its politicians campaigning to host the World's Columbian Exposition,
even many Chicago locals associate this cognomen with the city's
blustery winter climate, in which freezing temperatures are common
at least five months of the year. Winter features prominently
in the city's seasonal culture, bringing with it elaborate Holiday
decorations and celebrations. Chicago also makes a special point
of St. Patrick's Day, the summer months, Halloween, and Thanksgiving,
as well as festivities unique to Chicago and to the residents
of its specific neighborhoods.
With its miles of sandy beaches along Lake Michigan, its elevated
rail lines, its urban, suburban, and rural milieus, its large
and gracious natural preserves, its sleek high-rises, its vibrant
neighborhoods, its classicist and contemporary exteriors, Greater
Chicago stirs both an invocation of the American generic and a
declaration of its uniqueness. One could argue with some enthusiasm
that nowhere else in the world are there so many distinct sensibilities
and expressions under a single urban umbrella. Although it sometimes
hides its exuberant cards behind a curtain of Chicagoite jingoism,
the city is as multifaceted as the surfaces of its built environment
and as organic as its wild flora.
Text Copyright ©2004
AIA Guide to Chicago. Alice Sinkevitch, ed. New
York: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1993.
The Green Guide: Chicago. Greenville, SC: Michelin
Travel Publications, 2001.
Johnson, Lorraine and John Ryan. Dorling Kindersley
Eyewitness Travel Guides: Chicago. London: Dorling Kidersley
Publishing, Inc., 2001.
lyricopera.org - Lyric Opera of Chicago
northwestern.edu - Northwestern University
ravinia.org - Ravinia Festival
steppenwolf.org - Steppenwolf Theater Company.
Westfall, Carroll William. "Introduction: The Region's
Communities and Buildings". A Guide to Chicago's
Historic Suburbs. Bach, Ira J. Chicago: Ohio University