Friday, July 13, 2012

My Summer Vacation, Part 1: A Tale of Two Cities

I don't like announcing when I'm going to be out of town if the whole family is going. To me, it seems like an invitation to nefarious people to hunt down my true identity and address and pay my home a "visit". Honestly, I don't know just how easy or difficult that is, but I feel better with my paranoia intact.

So, this being said, I was away on vacation with my family for about a week. Actually, the first day and a half I spent working at a conference but then the hubby and boys joined me and we had a fabulous time in...CHICAGO.

I've heard a lot of good things about Chicago. A close relative of mine has gone there several times over the past few years and has always raved about the city and various people I work with or just spend time with (like my Chinese acupuncturist) have told me what a great place it is. Originally, we'd planned to go back to New York, a city I adore, but the Chicago contract came up and it just made perfect sense to stay a few more days and enjoy the sights with my family.

Well, I am now adding Chicago to my list of wonderful places to visit in the U.S., proudly on par with New York City and Boston.

I'm definitely a big city kind of person. I love the excitement and variety that a big city has to offer. And Chicago has to offer all of this in spades.

But I am going to start "My Summer Vacation" with a little comparison of two cities: Chicago and Toronto.

Chicago actually has a lot in common with my home town, Toronto. Both are situated on a Great Lake (Michigan and Ontario) and both have a pretty vibrant downtown core. The two cities (metropolitan areas) have similar populations: According to City of Toronto information, we have a population of 2,615,060 (2011). Chicago's is 2,695,598 (2010) and apparently shrinking. Toronto's population is growing.

However, my visit to Chicago underscored an unfortunate fact about Toronto: it is a city without a vision. University Avenue in Toronto could have been just as impressive as Chicago's Michigan Avenue. Instead, although similar proportionally, it is lined with hospitals and insurance companies.

Let's compare this to Chicago:

Chicago's architecture is truly wondrous. Since the great fire in the late 1800s, Chicago welcomed in brilliant architects that transformed the downtown core. Much has been done to preserve, enhance and compliment Chicago's past and present architectural heritage. What does Toronto do? We let the developers call the shots, tearing down buildings that have true historical and architectural value in order to put up cheap, soulless blocks that start crumbling within a few years. Sometimes, unscrupulous companies let firebugs do the job...

Chicago has also done amazing things with its waterfront. There is even a municipal regulation obliging anyone building on the waterfront to include a pedestrian walkway, open to all. Toronto, on the other hand, has let developers runs amok, blocking the view of beautiful Lake Ontario. There are also a lot of former industrial sites that are now barren and ugly. Yes, we do have some nice areas like the neighbourhood known as "The Beach", but it's a relatively small area. Most of our waterfront is either hidden and unavailable to the public or just an eyesore.

Chicago also has an extremely well-developed subway system with so many different coloured lines that it boggles the mind. Toronto has been mired in municipal in-fighting for so long that most of us have given up on ever seeing a transportation system able to carry the millions of people who live and work in our city.

Here are a few transit plans that have gone nowhere in Toronto, due to a lack of leadership and vision, as well as a dysfunctional City Council structure:

This is what we have (I admit, a few stations in the upper right-hand section have been cut off), with a few paltry stations in the works, though they will not be opening for several years to come:

Oh, and here's Chicago's subway map:

And did I mention that you can take the subway to BOTH airports? Yes, for the huge sum of $2.25 you can get to O'Hare or Midway. From my house in Toronto, I can either take a cab, which costs me $52 (including tax and tip), or go all the way downtown (a $3 subway fare and about 40 minutes of my time) to get a shuttle bus from one of the hotels, which costs somewhere in the vicinity of $20 or more and takes another 40 minutes or so.

Of course, I saw Chicago through a tourist's eyes. Apparently, it has a very high murder rate: 423 in 2011, compared to Toronto's 45 during the same year. Yes, Toronto has had some scary events this year, including a shooting at the food court of our premier downtown shopping mall, the Eaton Centre, during which two people were shot to death and several innocent bystanders wounded (some seriously), but our violence pales in comparison to Chicago. Of course, this gives Toronto a huge quality-of-life advantage over Chicago.

To be continued...

1 comment:

  1. I am sorry about being late to this reading - I would have definitely commented had I been on time!
    I LOVE your comparison of Chicago and Toronto. I've never been to Toronto but have always wanted to go. I'm thrilled that you had such a good time. Chicago is truly on of my favorite places to go. Every time I travel there I wish I could move there - but I know it's just the vibe of the city. Very eclectic people, neighborhoods, you name it. I hope you had enough time to visit a museum and eat at a great restaurant.