Chicago, Illinois

Aug 1, 2005
Outside Magazine
Chicago, Illinois

The ethereal glow of Chicago's Buckingham Memorial Fountain    Photo: Brand X

POPULATION: 2.7 million // MEDIAN AGE: 32 // MEDIAN HOME PRICE: $265,000 // AVERAGE COMMUTE: 33.2 min.

When Mayor Richard M. Daley (son of Richard J. "Boss" Daley, mayor from 1955 to 1976) first declared his vision of transforming gritty, sports-fixated Chi-town into "the greenest city in the country," residents smirked and ordered another pitcher of Old Style. Now, with Daley in his fifth term, skeptics are about as common here as Mets fans. Under Daley's reign, more than 400,000 trees have been planted, 125 vegetation-covered "green roofs" have sprouted atop buildings—including City Hall—to slurp up runoff and help cool the urban heat island, and dozens of new energy-scrimping structures are in line for certification by the U.S. Green Building Council. The city has teamed with local environmental groups to give four run-down South Side bungalows sustainable makeovers (recycled-tire floor tiles, geothermal heating)—a project designed to inspire owners of 80,000 similar vintage nests across the city. Meanwhile, architects and gardeners attend free workshops at the city-funded Center for Green Technology; abandoned gas stations have blossomed into pocket parks; and the Field Museum has gone solar. The belle of Chicago's renaissance? Millennium Park, 24.5 downtown acres of gussied-up railyards and parking lots, complete with a bike-commuting station, an ice rink, and a Frank Gehry–designed band shell.

PROGRESSIVE CRED // Still not convinced? Consider the fact that the city government is on track to buy 20 percent of its power from renewable sources within the next year and that 4,800 acres of recovering South Side wetlands will soon host a center for environmental remediation. Homeowners who upgrade the energy-efficiency of historic homes earn up to $2,000 in grants. The city will even let you swap your exhaust-spewing gas lawn mower for a discounted electric model. These guys are serious.
LIVABILITY // In addition to the 18-mile string of parks and beaches along Lake Michigan (which fill with volleyball players, runners, and sailors as soon as spring even hints at appearing), ambitious new outdoor visions are taking shape, including the Grand Illinois Trail, a 537-mile bike loop to the banks of the Mississippi and back, and the Northeastern Illinois Regional Water Trail, a 467-mile network-in-progress of lake and river routes for kayakers and canoeists. Economic bonus: The diversity of Chicago's job market tends to prevent jarring spikes and plunges.
YOU'LL LOVE THIS TOWN IF // You can look past the dismal winters—because no city packs more living into its summer.