Layers of the City: Chicago Edition

The first place to show me how a city can be stacked like a layer cake, Chicago provided ample opportunities to explore all levels of the city. The experience of noticing the expansion joints in roads that I assumed were on solid ground opened my eyes to the possibilities of stacking uses.

Underground Life

A vacant lot two stories below street level solved the mystery of the expansion joints, by exposing the inner guts.  Two more roads sit below street level to segregate trash pick-up and deliveries from the flow of traffic.  These lover levels also provide some opportunities for parking without monopolizing valuable real estate above.  Retail shops connected by pedestrian passageways are also interspersed in these layers.

River Life

At the same elevation as the “underground life,” the Chicago River flows through the heart of the city.  On and along the river are a variety of activities.  Pedestrian paths, cafes, housing, parks, industrial uses, and homeless encampments line the shores.  Meanwhile, the river abounds with ducks, boat tours, water taxis, construction staging, and marinas.

Street Level

Back up on the street level, life buzzes.  Vehicular and pedestrian traffic rush passed, occasionally pealing off to visit the numerous shops, offices, museums, restaurants, cafes, parks, and trails.

Pie in the Sky

Yet, more life looms above.  Several of the skyscrapers have penthouse, or nearly penthouse, restaurants.  Others have rooftop observation platforms.  Between these and the street are many other opportunities for enjoying life including a religious sanctuary, the “L”, gardens, art, pedestrian bridges, and of course, offices, apartments, hotel rooms, and shops.

Unlike Pittsburgh, in Chicago, the public is welcome in some form on every level to gain a full experience of the city.

Pedestrian Bridges: Chicago

BP Bridge

There are two pedestrian bridges connecting to Millennium Park in Chicago.  The first I encountered was the BP Bridge.  I admired the undulating silver sculpture above as I walked past and was thrilled to discover it was a pedestrian bridge.  My excited was quickly crushed as the bridge was closed to traffic due to construction at the other end.  I realized that I have become quite addicted to bridge-walking.  I was on my way to see The Bean before renting a bike to ride along the lake, when seeing this bridge completely sidetracked me.  I had a desperate urge to walk a bridge.  Fortunately, there was another pedestrian bridge nearby and while it was not nearly as enticing, it had some interesting parts.

BP Bridge The Nichols Bridgeway

The Nichols Bridgeway connects Millennium Park with the Art Institute of Chicago.  Both ends had space-age-like toughs, which I assumed were supposed to be a fancy drainage system.  If their purpose is a drainage system, the upper end by the Institute has failed and been turned into a wishing well.

Lower Trough Upper Trough/Wishing Well

The part I liked best about this bridge was that while it looked like the surface was level, there were ridges or “speed-bumps” every few feet.  I wondered if these were merely artistic or if they had a functional value like reducing the slipperiness of the bridge during icy conditions.

Bumpy Walkway The Nichols Bridgeway