My recent trip to Manhattan has me reflecting on the differences between Chicago and New York. We Chicagoans always seem to be on the defensive when it comes to comparisons between these two great cities. We see New Yorkers as our smug older siblings, lording it over us that they have more style and swagger.
It’s true that New York is bigger and brasher. Chicago is now only the third most populous city in the United States, having been overtaken by Los Angeles in the 1990s. New York has more of just about everything: museums, art galleries, restaurants, theaters, music venues, shopping.
Here in Chicago we have a lively downtown financial district, but New York has the famed Wall Street. We have Broadway in Chicago, but New York has, well, Broadway! Our skyscrapers such as the Willis Tower and the John Hancock Building are well known but not as iconic as the Empire State Building. And there is nothing else in the US quite like Times Square.
Nevertheless, I much prefer my hometown for the following reasons:
1. Chicago has alleys. While not the most exciting feature of our city, at least we have a place to hide all our garbage until the city sanitation workers can pick it up.
2. We have the lakefront. The beautiful expanse of Lake Michigan to the east makes a dramatic setting for our museums, high rise condos, parks, and beaches. If you want to go to the beach in New York, you have to travel out to one of the boroughs.
3. Chicago is not as crowded. Even on the Magnificent Mile, Chicago’s beautiful shopping district and tourist haven, there is not the sense of claustrophobia I feel while exploring the streets of New York City.
4. Our architecture is magnificent. Some of the premier architects in history – Frank Lloyd Wright, Daniel Burnham, and Mies Van der Rohe, to name a few, have helped shape the skyline and character of the Second City. Chicago is also known as the birthplace of the skyscraper.
5. Chicago is much more affordable. The first time I ever saw a Manhattan co-op that had cost its owners half a million dollars, I was shocked. It was more like a dorm room than an apartment.
6. Most importantly, Chicagoans are friendly. Whether walking the streets of the city or frequenting the local bars, you feel a sense of camaraderie that I have never noticed in New York.
No matter its status as second class citizen to the Big Apple, I am happy to be a denizen of “sweet home Chicago.”