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Old 07-15-2010, 03:34 PM
Location: Cincinnati
3,341 posts, read 6,410,218 times
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i am a Cincinnatian but currently in Chicago on business. Staying downtown, just outside the loop. I have spent the last two evenings walking around...one night I walked to the Old Town and back and then the next to Chinatown and back. So it seems like I covered a reasonable area. All my reports are based on my visiting these places and getting to them by foot, leaving from around Michigan and Grand Ave where my hotel is.

I just thought I would share some of my impressions...they are probably ignorant and certainly ill-informed, but in an American fashion I shall go on anyways.

Walking north...my interest was piqued by the area label "old town" on my tourist map so I headed up there. The area was fine, but I have to admit most of this area didn't seem old at all but more like new buildings on old lots. The few scattered old buildings were interesting enough I suppose. Of the new construction I was impressed with the use of cinder block instead of wood framing on a lot of the residential construction. it avoided the rather ubiquitous "siding monster" look that is common with new construction where the long wall is cheap siding and the front is a simple brick veneer. The older houses seemed mostly like folk stuff, I didn't see anything that wowed me but I only walked down a couple of streets. In general the vibe I got from this place was just like what I have got in lincoln park when i have visited friends there...sort of young and yuppie and a little bland (I could be wrong..).

I headed back south along sedgwick. My impression here was the much of this area gentrified in the last twenty or so years and that sedgwick is still something of a dividing line between public housing on the west and more urban yuppie on the east. I passed what looked like some great low-key restaurants but I did not stop.

The real treat was the following day when I walked south to china town. My walk started from the north side of the loop. The loop area is cool of course and a real monument to American progress, etc. I think I first stopped and said "wow" to myself after crossing Jackson (this looks like it may have been a "dividing line" at one time). The massive residential buildings taking up what seemed like an entire city block was breathtaking in their own way, sort of brutal and beautiful at the same time.

As I continued south, the Printers row area was cool enough. Then once I got past dearborn station (heading south, walking mind you so i went 'off road' for a spell) into the south loop area, that whole area seemed like perhaps it was once projects or public housing that were cleared out to make room for yuppies. I imagine it was a slow gentrification (if that is what occurred), but it is complete in any case or at least so it seemed. This area was "ok" but lacked any soul in my opinion. In fact, despite looking really nice, the whole area kind of smelled like dog crap between the fenced in dogs in little yards running around in their own stuff and all the dogs out and about crapping in the medians and grass strips and parks.

As I continued south along clark, after south loop seemed to be an enormous dead zone. Parking lots and just "dead area." Little to no street life. A handful of new town houses that seemed out of place. But maybe if this area fills in they won't be out of place. Arriving in chinatown was a treat. The business district along wentworth is obviously brimming with character, but the residential side streets were the real treat. This was the only place I have seen that had anything resembling complete, intact, residential architecture of any age. The neighborhood felt edgy but safe enough. Tai chi practice going on in a school parking lot. Lots of different kind of people out and about and doing something other than shopping or eating.

So, to summarize, I didn't see much, but I did try to get out of the immediate loop area and enjoy a little bit of the flavor of the city, in its street life if not its cuisine (my culinary experiences involved a downtown tapas place where the waiters wore tee-shirts that said "Q," pizzeria due, and a pretty solid indian place...nothing i ate would probably pass the muster of "local approved"). Next time I'll head west and see what I see. Overall, I felt completely safe the entire time and I certainly prefer the vibe of the streets to those in New York.

Just thought I'd share!

Last edited by progmac; 07-15-2010 at 03:44 PM..
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Old 07-15-2010, 06:38 PM
Location: River North, Chicago, Illinois
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The best-preserved portions of Old Town are actually the portions in what locals might call the Old Town Triangle, which is north of North Avenue. The Gold Coast between Division and North Ave, immediately to the east of the portion of Old Town I think you were in, also has a lot of older mansions in between older and newer highrises.

The newish, but not brand new parts of the South Loop south of Dearborn Station are mostly built not on former public housing, but on former railyards.

The parking lots areas south of the Loop are remnants of a mix of warehouses, flophouses and, even further back in time, Chicago's biggest Red Light district (long gone, for better or for worse).

Chinatown is quite vibrant right now, with a good influx of immigrants. If you only went to Wentworth south of Cermak and the sidestreets there, you missed a big portion of modern Chinatown, located on the north side of Archer in the Chinatown Square outdoor mall, the residences north of that, with Chicago's only Chinese-named park along the river (Tom Ping Park). It's not as character-filled as the older southern parts, but it's an interesting addition to see the neighborhood continuing to grow and expand.
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Old 07-15-2010, 08:06 PM
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Dude, that is some MAJOR walking! Few people would just stroll for that geat a distance, eecially in such heat.

That said ii is amazingly easy to keep track of where you are at as the uniformity of Chicago's grid is the ultimate in number line diction finding...

If / when you head west it might ne neat to make big loop west along Randolph , cross the Ike at Damen and the head back east on Roosevelt , Taylor or Harrison. There are some rougher areas along that route, but so long as you do not look like an obvious target you ought to be OK...
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Old 07-16-2010, 08:03 AM
Location: Cincinnati
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awesome, thanks for the comments. this gives me a good idea what i'll do next time! being in town on business is weird...8-5 i am busy but then after that, nothing, and there is no excuse to be bored in a place like chicago so there is plenty of time for long wanders about the city. on my last day (yesterday) i merely strolled along the lakeside. pleasant, although the afternoon sun was scorching. plenty to see still and i will see it in time i am sure. always a pleasure to come here.
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Old 07-16-2010, 08:21 AM
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You need to hit the historic district in Old Town. And check out the area around St. Michael's Church. The historic blocks are quite beautiful, and largely un-marred by the cinder block monstrosities.

But yes, Old Town is now largely yuppified and bland. There is very little left of the bohemian hippie culture that existed in the 1960s.
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Old 07-16-2010, 09:00 AM
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Plus remember that Chicago burned down in the 1870's.....so the "Old Town" name would probably draw a lot of laughs in Europe and other truely OLD places.

That is a some major walking with this heat and humidity! Many of the areas you walked in have been torn down and replaced during the past 50 years as far as old in-place neighborhoods. Once you get to Chinatown you're creeping into that type of residential - which is a vast majority of Chicago.

The South Loop actually didn't slowly transition, but for the most part flashed over from vacant, railroad, run down industrial areas to what it is now in about 10 years. The mid 2000's in that area were dizzying as far as how fast buildings were going up. I agree though (as do friends who live there) that there's an anxious wait for the retail/restaurant situation to catch up with the amount of residential in that area.

I would really recommend taking a cab or taking the Brown Line up a few stops and getting out at Armitage and walking around to the east/north/south of there. It's fully gentrified, but walking Lincoln Park up there is really beautiful and the architecture is interesting. One of my all-time favorite streets to walk is Lincoln Ave from where it starts on the south all the way up through the city.

Since you seem to like the power walking - I would also recommend walking up the lakefront until you get tired. There's a nice path, tons of people walking, beaches, parks, buildings, etc. You can wander into the zoo or the lily pond, the conservatory, etc.

If you're going to walk west, I wouldn't do it straigh west from the Loop. There's been a TON of construction there the past 10 years, but you're not going to see anything historic, amazing or really CHICAGO. It's new 4-10 story big block residential buildings with spotty retail on the bottom. It's clean and pretty, but you can see that in a lot of cities.
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