Skip to content

Podthoughts: Curious City

Vital stats:
Format: questions about Chicago history, culture, and infrastructure, investigated
Episode duration: 9-23m
Frequency: weekly

“Not so long ago Chicagoans were convinced that their city would soon be the greatest and most famous on Earth, outranking New York, London, and Paris, the centre of a new world, the boss city of the universe,” writes Jan Morris, our most astute observer of place, in a midcentury essay on the capital of the midwest. But now, “the blindest lover of Chicago would not claim for the place the status of a universal metropolis. Too much of the old grand assertiveness has been lost. Nobody pretends Chicago has overtaken New York; instead there is a provincial acceptance of inferiority, a resignation, coupled with a mild regret for the old days of brag and beef. For one reason or another, the stream of events generally passes Chicago by.” Chicagoans, a people still famously full of pride, may take issue with the passage quoted above, but they should note that Morris goes on to sing the praises of their city’s “magnificent art galleries,” “splendid libraries,” “plethora of universities,” “excellent symphony orchestra,” and so on. Why, just last night, I sat down to pizza with a couple of New York- and Los Angeles-loving urbanist friends just returned from the Windy City, both of whom had many strongly favorable impressions of its robustness, cleanliness, and comforting solidity to share. One of them even declared Chicago’s downtown his very favorite in the world.

Still, they laughed when I told the old joke about the discussion among Chicago’s founders: “Okay, we like New York; we like the crime, and we like the overcrowding. But consarn it, it’s not cold enough!” But our conversation, quite pro-Chicago overall, came at an advantageous time, for I’d spent the past few weeks listening to Curious City [RSS] [iTunes], a newish podcast from well-regarded Chicago-based public radio station WBEZ. Each week, the show hits the street in search of answers to questions about the city’s history, culture, and infrastructure submitted by residents: “Are there tunnels under the Loop?”, “What Do Aldermen Do?”, “How do they clean the Bean?” These questions will no doubt make more sense to you — some sense, anyway — if you’ve lived or spent time in Chicago, but the show, seemingly aiming toward even a non-Chicagoan audience, usually takes pains to explain, in simple, outsider-friendly terms, even the most beloved local landmarks and institutions.

Read the whole thing at Maximum Fun.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *