Fri, 23 Sep 2005


chi-town revisited

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so to be honest, I decided to come out here because of a girl. now M can't say I've never come out to visit.

but I was also intrigued to come back to this place, to see if anything has changed since a year and three months ago when I left this place, likely for good, except for times like this, perhaps.

I have discovered, much to my chagrin, that, without free plane fare and without leeching off of any of my friends, Chicago is an expensive place to visit.

I don't know if it's simply because I don't get out anymore—at all, but cruising down the Blue Line from O'hare after all the airport workers got off at Jefferson Park, I noticed that there were a lot of young people out. not that there's anything surprising with young people going out on a Thursday night (after all, everyone knows that the weekend starts on a Thursday) but, I don't know. I suppose it's just where I am in my life. All the people I hang with are either my age (circa 30) or older, and, sadly, most of the time, it is work-related. Man, I can't believe I am calling early 20 somethings "young people". Still, I'm kind of stuck on the notion that anyone younger than my little sister is pretty young. This despite my "baby sister" turning 24.

anyway, I realize I miss the big city. I miss the ability of being able to walk a couple of blocks from where I live and be able to find something interesting to do. I only actually lived in the city proper for 2 years (and out of that I spent nearly 6 months out of town) but I was in Chicagoland for 5 years total, and it's strange to not be able to think of this place as home, as much as I bitched and moaned about being stranded out in the Midwest.

although, I suppose that was the interesting thing. I fully recognize that growing up in Southern California separates you from reality de facto, simply by the fact that you have to get in your car to go anywhere. Hence, trapped in your little bubble universe travelling at 15 mph down the 405, you really don't get the same sort of city vibe. Mike Davis talks about the irony of artificial, Potemkin city centers dotting L.A.—Universal City Walk, Downtown Disney. Hell, that's what malls essentially are—prototype arcologies, privately owned pseudo-public spaces.

I dunno. I'm starting to leave stable orbit and head out into the vast blankness of outer space, but it gets me thinking about the so-called "culture war," which in some senses marks the divide between the people in the rural areas and suburban hell, and the people who live in the city proper. Sure, you can't ignore the notion of race when discussing this, but to focus on that alone is oversimplifying. The so-called "Sun Belt cities," of which L.A. is the prototype, and which easily includes San Diego, are really just hundreds of suburbs and private artificial developments that, after forming some critical mass, were amalgamated into these hellish places of big-box Walmartization and cookie-cutter tract housing with no true city center, no true central business district to speak of. in what may not be coincidence, these kinds of cities dot the landscape of the red states. I mean, the whole premise of suburban living is that is somehow approximates the wide-open spaces of the countryside and combines it with the consumer-convenience that civilization (i.e., city centers) traditionally provide. In my mind, it doesn't work. Decentralization and hodge-podge unregulated development simply lead to the stagnation of youth (since they don't have anything interesting to do or go to when they're not at school except for the mall), the obesification of American people (since you have to hop in your car to get anywhere, and no one walks—there aren't even any sidewalks sometimes), and widespread environmental destruction. There is also a sense that this disdain for natural ecology practiced by many developers leave unsuspecting suburbanites at the mercy of not-so-merciful Mother Nature. While New Orleans was destroyed, and Houston awaits the tender ministrations of Hurricane Rita, you can see every year how parts of Southern California routinely burn down (see most of San Diego County and the mountains in Ventura and San Bernardino Counties in the Autumn of 2003), and all those rapidly (and cheaply) built hillside developments tend to slide into the sea. (See Ventura County, Malibu, Laguna Hills.)

Not to say that the supremely centralized schema of urban development pioneered and well practiced by Chicago is the end-all, be-all. Chicago has had it's share of eco-disasters. After all, a year or so before I ever came here, nearly a thousand people died one summer from heat-related conditions. But there is something about living in a city like Chicago, or New York, or San Francisco, that is missing from places like San Diego. (Oh, sure, L.A. is the prototype of sprawl and decentralized private development, but in it's early history it developed more like traditional cities, and you can still see faint glimmerings of that when you wander around Downtown or K-Town.) The wackos on the religious right see the centralized city as fortresses of depravity and the libertarian disciples of Ayn Rand find the centralized city as the epitome of the welfare state, but it's hard for me to relate. After all, the centralized city is the basis of civilization—without the city-states of Mesopotamia, without urbanization along the Nile, the Indus, the Yangtze, et al, what would life be like?

10:22:47 23 Sep 2005 > /soul > permalink > 9 comments


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