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.
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.
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.
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.