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|Why Chicago is better than New York||| Print ||
|Written by Wanda NL|
An article about a bold city, needs to begin with a bold statement. Off course: NY is an entity one of a kind. It is the super high energy melting pot often considered to be the capital of the World. But it is not "that" American, and it is definitely not the ultimate in American urban planning. The best American city is Chicago. Period.
Almost build up from scratch after the big 1871 Chicago fire, this city has done everything right to make it the most impressive modernist stack of steel and concrete anywhere in the World. New York had always been a close runner up in massiveness until it was amputated on nine-eleven in 2001. Today, Chicago is alone at the top.
Enough loose statements for now. We want to know why!
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We start with a look at the street-layout in the two cities. The picture below shows Chicago on the left and New York on the right. The strict square grid of Chicago has a bigger 'pixel' than the rectangular one in New York. This allows Chicagoans to build bigger blocks. The square grid also removes the experience of a difference in the north-south versus the east-west directions. This is essential for the maze-like quality of Chicago's streets, without complicating navigation. The always present wind from the lake is never failing to tell you what is east. In New York, the difference between the streets and avenues clearly makes the buildings along the streets inferior to those on the avenues.
This difference can also be seen in the trafic directions. Where New York has two-way avenues and smaller one-way streets, in Chicago all streets are equal and one-way only.
Typical street pattern, left: Chicago, right: New York
Second ingredient to Chicago's downtown quality is the very strong building-alignment. There never ever is a set-back. All the facades within a street are in perfect alignment. The only exceptions are a couple of public squares. Because NY building-alignment is never so severe as it is in Chicago, the walls along the sidewalks open up more often.
Last blessing for Chicago's urban atmosphere is the lack of New York's rigid zoning-law. Where the zoning-law in New York is delivering the citizens their needed sunlight, one in Chicago is free to go straight up from the sidewalk 300 meters without complaints. The schemes below are made to illustrate the effect of the absence of strict, New York like, zone-regulations in Chicago. The setbacks required in New York make that unique Chicago Grand Canyon quality impossible over there.
New York street section: the setbacks open up the streets too much.
Chicago: straight up from the sidewalk, one cannot go without feeling small.
Sure, New York is a superb city, but Chicago cannot be beaten in massiveness. It is a big question if any of the upcoming Asian metro-poles will ever be able to top the unique quality of downtown Chicago. Even if they try, the Chicagoans can always fall back on their timeless genius-made blocks like SOM's Sears Tower and their ultimate masculine skyscraper: The John Hancock Center, the Chicago Federal Center by Mies van der Rohe, the IBM Building, Marina City and the Lake Shore Apartments.