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Back to School: Our Favorite Things
Bird's Eye View of Chicago

“Bird’s Eye View of Chicago,” an 1857 map drawn by J.T. Palmatary, part of “Mapping Chicago,” opening Sunday at the Chicago History Museum

The Grid

Perhaps the most underappreciated aspect of Chicago is the street grid: since it’s everywhere, it’s easy to take for granted. We owe the east-west/north-south plat to the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 and the standardized street names and numbers to the Brennan Plan of 1908. Addresses are numbered from the intersection of State and Madison out; every 800 is a mile; every half-mile there’s a commercial street.

Some decry the grid as monotonous, but nothing could be further from the truth. The grid makes the dead ends and complications more interesting—railroads, expressways, rivers, canals, industrial sites, hospitals, schools, cemeteries, diagonal streets, alleys, gangways, and other unexpected twists and turns.

The system can seem like an affront to nature: Cartesian right angles imposed on swampy Chicago. Yet again the opposite is true. The grid gives us the wild: green corridors lead coyotes to Lincoln Park. Most of the angled streets were prehistoric beaches; they became Native American trade routes and the settlers’ first interstate highways. The grid dictates how sunlight falls on the city: it’s indirect in summer and winter, but in fall and spring the east-west streets are luminescent tunnels as sunlight barrels, unobstructed by buildings, westbound at dawn and eastbound at dusk.

Most of us have an incomplete picture of the grid, circumscribed by our homes, schools, and jobs. Beyond these familiar locations there be dragons, or slums, or just empty space. There, not here. But the grid opposes such divisions. The Halsted where Boys Town parades its pride is the same street where Bridgeport huddles on Election Day. Jackson is Jackson in the financial heart of downtown or the broken heart of Austin. The grid connects, proving that you can get there from here. So maybe here and there are false distinctions, and we’re all really just here. —Bill Savage

We also want to hear your stories about your favorite people, places, and things in the city--go here to share them with the rest of the class.


A & T Grill
Elizabeth M. Tamny

All Rise Gallery
Liz Armstrong

The Ando Gallery at the Art Institute
Tamara Faulkner

Bartender Ballet at the Violet Hour
Mike Sula


The Basement of After-Words
Monica Kendrick

The Blue Crab Lounge at Shaw’s
Michael Lenehan

The Butcher Shop
Noah Berlatsky

Deborah Butterfield’s “Ben”
Ryan Hubbard


The Diary of Virginia May Garcia
Noah Berlatsky

The Fern Room at the Garfield Park Conservatory
Martha Bayne

Fine Wine Brokers
Kathie Bergquist

The Grid
Bill Savage


Hideout Dance Parties
Martha Bayne

Jazz Record Mart and Dusty Groove
Peter Margasak

Jollyball at the Museum of Science and Industry
Noah Berlatsky

Ken Dunn
Mick Dumke


The Lobby Bar at Second City
Albert Williams

Lost & Found
Kathie Bergquist

Manhattans at the Matchbox
David Hammond

Matinees at the Music Box
Adam Langer


Marina City
Lynn Becker

The Mausoleum at Rosehill Cemetery
Kerry Reid

Monday Night at Sidetrack
Zac Thompson

Monday Night Farm Dinner at Lula Cafe
Peter Margasak


Moo & Oink
Mike Sula

Music Box Massacre
J.R. Jones

The Murals at the 18th Street El Stop
Brenna Ehrlich

The Newberry Library
Harold Henderson


The North Branch Trail
Jennifer Sodini

Open Mike at Gallery Cabaret
Julia Rickert

Outdanced!
Liz Armstrong

RUI: Reading Under the Influence
Kathie Bergquist


Silent Summer Film Festival
J.R. Jones

Sunday Transmission at the Hungry Brain
Peter Margasak

The Sweet Spot at the Empty Bottle
Miles Raymer

Textile Discount Outlet
Tasneem Paghdiwala


The Thorne Miniature Rooms at the Art Institute
Albert Williams

Victory Gardens Greenhouse Theater
Albert Williams

Wil Hasbrouck
Harold Henderson

The Window Seat at Letizia’s
Emerson Dameron


Send a letter to the editor.



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