Getting such a place together in one big civic formula is a job
for a sociologist or maybe a contortionist. You begin with the
ingredients, and they're mixed. No city is all one thing, anyway,
and this one is part yesterday, part tomorrow, part problem, part
solution: an iron city going somewhere but not quite sure where
as it puts aside a century of assembly lines and heads for a century
of light lines to the moon.
You won't see it that way, though, if you stay on the expressways
that split the town's crust. Oh, you'll see looming shapes of
church spires and they make you wonder how they happened to get
here in such breathtaking numbers. You'll see the business towers
that grab lakeside sky and excite the air.
And there are hints of neighborhoods that hold the town in place:
working-class wooden houses from another time, with working folk
still working in them, sometimes six to a room in old Pilsen;
surprisingly delicate graystones housing third-generation families
in Wrigleyville, say; bungalows and two-flats and apartments on
street after street; stylish high-rises with lake views in a city
with an architectural lineage tracing to Louis Sullivan, Frank
Lloyd Wright, and Mies van der Rhoe.
To see it all clearly, you get off the expressway and wheel onto
the streets. They're packed, they're swollen, and the shopping
strips are cluttered with storefront sign glare and the dust of
the generations piled at the curbs. And along with all this, thousands
of taverns, hog-wild gas stations, shaggy parking lots, and tons
of housing projects. And for that matter, whatever became of Hyde
Park's 55th Street?