(Chicago, IL) It has been quite some time since I have walked in the busy downtown district of a major American city. When I have traveled in the recent past to a large city, it has been to a place like Detroit, which lacks a vibrant commercial and retail environment in its downtown business district.
While attending a composition conference at the Palmer House Hilton in Chicago I took an hour to walk around the central business district. What an amazing sight it is to see many thousands of people shopping, running errands, and carrying on the business of the Windy City.
In a two-block square area with the Palmer House as the epicenter, I counted over 30 restaurants, 18 clothing stores, three drug stores, two theaters, and a grocery store. I also saw a half-dozen bars, a tobacconist, several jewelers, and a toupee boutique.
This list is just what I remember from a cursory parsing of my memory. Chicago’s panhandlers, too, are quite numerous, though I might add that they tend toward the unobtrusive. Toledo’s pedestrian financial solicitors, in the main, are more aggressive in their pursuit of alms; perhaps this is a function of the limited foot traffic in the Glass City.
This is also in stark contrast with the city in which I live: Toledo, Ohio. There are precious few retail establishments in the downtown area, as Toledoans have been trained to become mall denizens. Restaurants and bars thrive only when there is an event downtown, such as a Mud Hens game or a concert.
Admittedly Chicago is a bigger city than Toledo or even Detroit. Chicagoans, however, have actively worked to invest and improve their downtown business district, and view it as the very heart of the region.
Cities like Toledo and Detroit have not been able to create the sense of social necessity for their respective central cores. Suburban voices can often be heard agitating for urban devolution, or at least, allowing urban cores to die.
Walking around downtown Chicago, I could sense the civic pride in a vibrant downtown, and I paused to dream of a day when cities like Toledo can once again embrace a healthy downtown business district.