Chicago: Second To None


Most people know Chicago as the “Second City,” as in Second to New York, but that doesn’t do justice at all. The term “Second City” was coined in 1952 by a journalist named A.J. Liebling who thought Chicago was nothing more than a terrible facsimile of the Big Apple, and he wrote a piece for The New Yorker to that effect. Not surprisingly, he received a ton of reprimanding letters from proud Chicagoans who knew better.

Chicago needs no comparison. In fact, it’s so uniquely awesome that negative-thirty-degree wind-chill doesn’t stop people from living in Chiberia and loving it. Here are just a few reasons why it’s second to none:

The role Chicago played in American history was unique.

Chicago was a crucial gateway to the undeveloped American west, and as a result, it feels much more American than New York. When the Erie Canal opened in 1825, commerce began to flow from New York up to the Great Lakes, then over to the booming port of Chicago, then on to the Mississippi River, and eventually further west via the railroad. The American feel of Chicago also comes from not being a coastal city, therefore drawing more people from the American heartland. And besides, what’s more American than Michelle Obama, Oprah, jazz, and baseball at Wrigley Field?

Even though Chicago is just as gritty and hardcore as New York, Chicagoans play nicer.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my fellow New Yorkers, but there’s an easy friendliness in Chicago that makes me pine for the Midwest. By and large, Chicagoans aren’t shoving one another, threatening violence over a missed train, or screaming obscenities at cars. Even chaotic events like St. Patrick’s Day and the Pride Parade feel less stressful. I haven’t done any studies on this next point, but Chicago boys also seem more chivalrous. At the very least, they’ll usually hold the door for you, if you’re into that kind of thing.

Chicago has so much art, music, and culture of its own, there’s no need to imitate New York or anyplace else.

Chicago’s skyline is a work of art, with the Sears Tower (sorry, “Willis Tower”), the Hancock Center, and so many recognizable others. Just the prairie-inspired Robie House by Frank Lloyd Wright puts Chicago in an architectural league of its own. You could spend months exploring the Art Institute and barely scratch the surface, and that’s just the city’s most famous museum. The home-grown jazz and blues scene is inimitable, and don’t even get me started on the wealth of contemporary theater.

Do you live in a city that’s perpetually in the shadow of another? I’m looking at you, Portland! Tell us what makes your city second to none.


About Author

Sarah is the North America Editor for Go! Girl Guides and she wrote the New York City guidebook. Raised in rural Texas on mesquite barbecue and barrel racing, Sarah lived in Indiana for two years before moving to New York by herself. Some of her favorite experiences in North America include snowmachining outside of Anchorage, exploring Caladesi Island off the coast of Florida, touring a Cold War bunker in West Virginia, watching the sun set over Chicago from Lake Michigan, and taking an overnight train from Montreal to Halifax.

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