List 10: CPS Strike, Homicides and Why I Still Love Chicago

One side effect of the Chicago Teacher’s Union strike has been an upsurge in suburban smugness. “This is why I live in the suburbs.” “I guess it’s time for you to move to the suburbs, huh?” Similar sentiment often arises in reference to the city’s homicide rate, which is definitely something of which I’m aware. It’s true that the CTU Strike and homicide rate are symptomatic of some serious problems in Chicago right now. Still, I love living in the city. I love living in this city. Below are some of the reasons I love living in and raising my children in Chicago.

I realize that some of these things are true of other cities. I realize that some of these are biased toward my neighborhood, since that’s the Chicago I see every day. I also realize that, as much as us city folk sometimes wish it weren’t true, many of these assets can be enjoyed by people from the suburbs when they visit. Still, this is why I have no plans to leave Chicago anytime soon.

  1. The lake, the lakefront beaches and the lakefront trail.
  2. Millennium Park with all of its beautiful and unique spaces: Pritzker Pavilion, Lurie Garden,  Cloud Gate (a.k.a. The Bean), and…
  3. Crown Fountain with its playfully changing faces that spit water to the delight of children (and adults), which is too fun not to get its own line item.
  4. The CTA. Yes, CTA is not perfect. (Why do #22 Clark busses always come in twos?) But if you truly believe that “CTA sucks” you probably haven’t lived anywhere else except possibly NYC, Tokyo or London. As a former DC dweller I particularly flinch when people return from vacation to our nation’s capital and remark that Chicago needs something more like the Metro. No! Sure, the Metro is prettier than the L, but the service levels are woefully inadequate particularly at night. A common DC late night activity is waiting 30 minutes for a train only to find that its two cars (since that’s often all they run at night) are already overflowing with people, so you give up an hail a cab. And speaking of cabs, if you plan on visiting DC and are flying into Dulles be ready to hire one since unlike a certain CTA sytem I know the Metro does not serve both of the area’s airports.
  5. Available taxis. Sure, this isn’t true of New Year’s Eve or after Lollapalooza, but in general you can get cabs in this city. I value this because I lived for a long time in Pittsburgh where you cannot hail cabs. You call a phone number and hope one actually shows up. It’s a pain, so people rarely use them. The biggest impact of this is that amongst those who enjoy beer, wine or other alcohol there is a culture of “buzzed” (i.e. drunk) driving. Do people do that in Chicago? Sure, but at least between items 1 and 2 more people don’t.
  6. Also, stuff is walkable! If you get the impression that part of why I live in the city is because I don’t like to drive you are right! Even without CTA and taxis I love that I can go to bars, restaurants, shops, the movies, live theatre and even the beach all in my neighborhood.
  7. Increasingly bike friendly. I only learned how to ride a bike a few years ago, and I’m still at the point that riding on a road with cars scares me. Still, I like that Chicago is becoming more bike friendly. Here’ s a nice overview from Bike to Work Week: Video.
  8. The food. Chicago food is a lot more than hot dogs and pizza. From world renowned fine dining to neighborhood ethnic favorites there is so much to appeal to every taste at a variety of price points. I listed some personal favorites here.
  9. Central Time. I don’t watch a lot of TV in real time, but when I do it’s usually sports or other live programming. In Eastern Time a lot of those things run past my bedtime. In Pacific Time a lot of things start before people are even home from work. And Mountain Time is just weird. Central rules.
  10. Cubs vs. Sox. Whichever side you’re on the crosstown rivalry enhances your resolve.
  11. Wrigley Field. This probably reveals our own household bias, but my husband likens seeing baseball at The Cell to being trapped inside a pinball machine. We prefer the old-fashioned feel of the manual scoreboard and the ivy on the outfield wall at Wrigley, even if the confines tend to be drunk as well as friendly.
  12. Union Station. As a fan of The Untouchables I can’t help but gasp and think about the baby carriage going down those stairs whenever I see them.
  13. So much music! A friend spent the summer here for an internship and asked my husband, “Where’s a good place to go in Chicago to see music?” That’s too hard of a question to answer. Some other cities may have a dozen or so significant music venues with a handful or less that book bands you want to see. In Chicago the list seems endless, plus some venues like Lincoln Hall are worth going to no matter who is playing.
  14. So much theatre! The husband is really the music person. I’ve always been more into theatre. Chicago has Tony Award winning regional theatres and premieres Tony and Pulitzer Award winning plays. We have the NeoFuturists who are world renowned for their uniquely frenetic performances. On a smaller scale there are numerous storefront and neighborhood theatres many of which do surpisingly good work. We also have the Broadway in Chicago series, which would be easier to make snide comments about if I hadn’t bought my Book of Mormon tickets almost a year in advance.
  15. Great Children’s Theatre, too. If my son grows up to be a theatre snob he can brag that he first saw a show at the Victory Garden’s Biograph Theatre before he turned 3.
  16. Aldermania. Say what you will about Chicago Politics, but it is nice to know that there is one person (and a staff) who are focused on the needs of your neighborhood.
  17. Neighborhoods with unique personalities. Find the one that fits best for you and nest. Vacation in other neighborhoods for variety. One unique aspect of my neighborhood is…
  18. Glögg. My mom makes glögg every year for her Christmas party. Although I have her recipe I love that they serve it at Simon’s.
  19. Diversity. On our block there are people of different races, sexual orientations and religions. That’s what the world looks like, and my kids get to see it every day.
  20. Dog friendliness. Dog beaches, dog parks and dog friendly restaurant patios. I don’t own a dog, but I live vicariously through others.
  21. The respect for winter. I definitely won’t say that I like Chicago winters, but I do like that true Chicagaons are realistic about them and don’t risk frostbite for vane silliness. It seems like everyone has an unflattering coat that resembles a sleeping bag, a pair of thick gloves and at least a hat if not a balaclava. When you have winters like this you don’t worry about vanity until you are in a well-heated shelter.
  22. Summer street festivals. Sure, we respect winter, but the summer is the time to get out. Some think there are too many festivals, but I love that there are multiple options every weekend.
  23. Lollapalooza. I went for my first time this year and, despite having an unusual first Lolla experience, I’m hooked. See you next year, Perry.
  24. The Art Institute. Go for the works you know from postcards and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Stay to discover something new and amazing. Fun fact for families: The Family Room in the Modern Wing where kids can experience art themed hands on activities is accessible for free.
  25. The Museum of Science and Industry. The presentations are so exciting you won’t realize it’s educational. (They do need a visible timer on that giant Tesla coil though so that I can manage the expectations of my 3 year old who loves it.)
  26. The Field Museum. The boy also loves dinosaurs.
  27. Lincoln Park Zoo. It’s free! I tend to love the baby animals, and the polar bear always puts on a great show. As much as they love the animals, my kids’ favorite part is the carousel.
  28. Shedd Aquarium. It’s huge! I don’t think I’ve even seen it all.
  29. Indian Boundary Park. It features an amazing, wooden, community-built play structure that kids can climb and explore. There is a lake with ducks and turtles. There is a petting zoo. In the summer there is a sprinkler. It’s a beautiful expanse on which to spend a family afternoon.
  30. Puppet Bike! It’s a puppet show on a bike (and I still hope to do a whole post dedicated to it). The Puppet Bike is a delight whenever we happen upon it and can pause a few moments to see a cat dance with a bunny.
  31. Pluto is still a planet, as it is by law in all off Illinois.
  32. We have bragging rights as President Obama’s home town.
  33. The Pedway. I learned about the pedway by following @ChicagoElevated on Twitter. (She runs a Pedway tour.) I said that I like that Chicagoans respect winter, but there is no reason to be stupid about it. When the weather gets harsh it’s much better to wander downtown in an enclosed pedway when you can.
  34. The Andersonville People Spot. It’s adorable.
  35. Tree-lined streets. The lush greenery of many of Chicago’s residential neighborhoods is a homey contrast to the bustling business districts that often lie just a block or two away.
  36. Halloween is huge. In our first year in a house instead of an apartment we had over 1200 trick-or-treaters. Luckily we had been warned and were prepared with 40 pounds of candy. Because of the constant flow of costumed little ones most people skip the doorbell ringing and just spend the evening sitting on their elaborately decorated porches. It is chaotic and rather expensive, but I am so looking forward to doing it again this year.
  37. The sounds of the city. I spend many summer evenings relaxing on my back porch relaxing to the sounds of the neighborhood: cicadas, sure, but also kids playing basketball in the alley and the soft sounds of traffic on a nearby thoroughfare. That’s musical to me.
  38. Close neighbors. I admit that I periodically crave a sprawling suburban yard, but in generally I like to be close to my neighbors. After all, in the suburbs no one can hear you scream. (Just kidding…maybe.) I like being able to hand a beer over the fence or receive some grilled food that is being handed to me just a few steps from where my kids are playing.
  39. Block parties. Because of the proximity we talk to our adjacent neighbors every day, but it’s nice to shut down the street once a year and socialize with everyone on the block. For me, block parties are pure Chicago since I’ve never lived anywhere else that had them.
  40. All the people.  About 5 and half years ago I was in Chicago in preparation for moving here. I was early for an appointment to see an apartment, so I took a walk down Clark Street. I met a couple sitting outside Kopi Cafe. They gushed about why Chicago in general and Andersonville in specific were great places to live. They made me feel welcome even though I didn’t live here yet. Four years later we had just moved into a new-to-us house shortly before the blizzard of 2011 hit. We had barely met our neighbors, but they spent hours helping my husband keep our car dug out in case I (who was 38 weeks pregnant) went into labor. And there are so many other kindnesses large and small that I have experienced from the people of Chicago, both strangers or neighbors. All I can do is try to be worthy to share this great city with them.


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