Monday, July 15, 2002

Thought of the day: the purpose and pleasure of urban place Today I had the treat of escaping the cubicle (sheesh, 22 and already sounding like Dilbert) for a walk through the Loop. The summer heat has eased here so the walk is more purely enjoyable. Every time I'm in the Loop I'm hit by the sense of place, the lack of which made me frustrated with my hometown in Michigan and my family's home near one of the biggest retail subdivisions in the state. But the walk down Lake Street towards Gallery 37, with skyscrapers slicing the sun onto the crowded street, tourists ambling and businessmen charging around, is a reminder of Chicago's energy. And Gallery 37 is a reminder of the city's artistry. It's the empty block between Marshall Field's and the Daley Center, which Lois Weisberg, one of Chicago's great city characters (fascinatingly profiled by Malcolm Gladwell), put to use with a city program that pairs artists with artistically-minded teenagers. Behind the black iron gates that separate the plaza from the steel and stone surroundings, the colors of paintings and sculptures jump out from under the white tents which make G37 look like an airlifted county fair. On the way back, I noticed the billboard for Ossama's hair design on State and Randolph is still up (no doubt exonerated by its extra "S"), and the all-star sandwich place Potbelly's has written on the scaffolding now concealing it: "In an effort to make Potbelly more special, we've made it harder to find!"

I've always written that culture anchors the citizen, and that's why a place like the Chicago Loop, one of the richest cultural spots on the continent, is a welcome new home for this disoriented suburbian. With the chain-retail-ization of the country, any place feels like, well, anyplace, indistinguishable from anyplace else. The lack of icons, character, and cultural cornerstones thins our places, and thus our people.

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