Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Concept: Chicago vs. New York in 21 Subjectively Determined Categories.



1. WORK
NEW YORK.
Easier to find, easier to keep.


2. HOUSING
CHICAGO.
Easier to find, won't rob you blind. Although you aren't as likely to be able to make a cassarole while sitting on your bed.


3. PUBLIC TRANSIT - EFFICIENCY
NEW YORK.
One late Sunday night, not long after I'd started living in New York, I got annoyed for waiting fifteen minutes for a subway. Then I remembered that in Chicago, I'd be blessed to have a train arrive after so long at such a time. Likewise, my apartment is a twenty minute walk to the subway, and a further twenty minutes to Union Square; my New York friends consiter this forty-minute public transit commute a great inconvenience. Now it does have to be acknowledged that New York stations are much dirtier than those in Chicago, but who cares? You're not spending as much time in them.
Exception: Chicago has two airports and two trains serving them. New York has two airports and zero trains serving them. What gives?


4. PUBLIC TRANSIT - ELEGANCE
CHICAGO.
Of course, I've read plenty about the train wreck that the CTA has become. And, of course, it is the job of public transit to be "efficient," not "elegant." But let us consider the potential here, for what could be if both systems were fully updated and maxed out on efficiency. On the one hand you have New York's bewildering spaghetti plate of letters, numbers, colors, dashed, solid, and dotted lines, and geographic morphing... it's taken almost two years to figure all this out, and I still make mistakes from time to time. Chicago's transit map, on the other hand is a work of art. Bright colors radiate from the core of the city like bicycle spokes, intersecting between the center and the periphery with the neat, solid black lines of bus service. Together, on a to-scale map that (shows streets and major features to boot), it presents a service that is immaculate, accessible, and seemingly comprehensive. If only the reality were so!


5. NEIGHBORHOODS.
CHICAGO.
New York neighborhoods are more conspicuously different from each other; they look different... the Brownstone isn't endemic to New York like the Brick Tenement is endemic to Chicago. But in Chicago the roots are deeper and more penetrating, more lasting, so that the difference between Bridgeport, Canaryville, and McKinley Park might as well be the difference between day and night.


6. PIZZA
CHICAGO.
Frankly, I don't even know why this is a debate. I once heard a compelling argument that New York style pizza is celebrated around counters by commuters on their way to work, and hence a source of camaraderie. A nice thought, but doesn't reliance on such an argument instead of the taste of the thing betray the point in the first place? New York style can be a soupy sweet snappy crunchy treat, but it is literally and figuratively crushed by the dense, rich, complex, and visually mighty Chicago-style.


7. MAYOR
NOT-A-TIE.
Now this is a difficult call. Since I've been reading Medieval history lately, I'll ask a comparable question: who do we like more, Charlemagne or Emperor Justinian of the Byzantines? Charlemagne was a able diplomat and something of the maverick true believer. His efforts managed to create a short-lived cultural Renaissance among subjects locked into mutual acrimony, but they also led to the creation of that most illogical and aberrant of all political institutions: the Holy Roman Empire. His greatest contribution in the long-term was probably the lower-case alphabet, and Bloomburg's will probably be Midtown traffic tolls. Whereas Emperor Justinian (and his successors, and theirs) integrated religious orthodoxy with state theology, autocracy, and political purges. He reinforced one of Byzantium's chief weaknesses: that provinces existed only to pay homage to the glittering capital. In doing so he was able to preserve a civilization that, by all logical rationales, ought to have died out eight-hundred years sooner than it did. J. Daley destroyed much of what was great about Chicago in the name of keeping it peopled and thriving, and his son is doing the same. If you read between the lines, I think you know both who I favor, and the massive reservations I have about that choice.


8. MUSEUMS - ART
NEW YORK.
I did expect New York to walk with this one, but I didn't expect it to be such a rout. The Met (which it took me six days to take in) has four times the square footage of the Art Institute and ten times the collection. Though what really hurts my feelings is the diversity and expansiveness and eclectiveness of the Met... after all, the Art Institute's pride and joy are their Impressionist works, which comes as close to boring me as any school of art really can. Also, just as Chicago has three museums to go toe-to-toe with the Museum of Natural History, MoMa has a right to take on the Art Institute, and doesn't do poorly in the contest. Both cities have, of course, numerous smaller collections of quality, but those in New York (the Frick, the Guggenheim, the Whitney) appear to be somewhat better endowed. I have to confess: I think I will miss this about New York more than any other single thing.


9. BASEBALL TEAMS (AND THEIR FANS) THAT I OBJECT TO
CHICAGO.
The Cubs have the most obnoxious fanbase on the planet, but Yankees fans are almost as obnoxious, with the added penalty of being frequently psychotic.


10. BASEBALL TEAMS (AND THEIR FANS) THAT I KINDA DON'T MIND.
NEW YORK.
If Cubs fans are frequently obnoxious, and Yankees fans are frequently obnoxious and psychotic, then White Sox fans are a generally decent non-obnoxious bunch, who nevertheless tend to go a little bit psycho. Whereas I've never even met a Mets fan I didn't like.


11. MUSIC
TIE.
To be fair, this, more than anything (for me, at least) comes down to a few key battles. Blues vs. Jazz, for instance (I go with Blues, and therefore Chicago). Or House vs. Hip Hop (which just rips me apart). I would have to go with the idea that New York does, in the end, represent a more diverse array of music on the whole, but the kinds of music that I love the most were perfected (and remain so) in Chicago. So there is no way to resolve this. It is a tie.


12. MUSEUMS - SCIENCE
CHICAGO.
Decisively, though not overwhelmingly. The comparison has to begin with the American Museum of Natural History vs. its equivalent, the Field Museum. Not only is the AMNH larger, but its execution is fresher, bolder, and its exhibits are more astonishing. The Cladographic exhibition of fossils is brilliant, and the Rose Space Center is visually striking and intricate. But unfortunately, that's the bulk of what New York brings to this question. The Museum of Science and Industry steps in on Chicago's behalf. As does Adler. And together, these three institutions, any of each could easily absorb one or several days exploring, do trump the AMNH. As for Shedd vs. the New York aquarium, there's simply no comparison. It's ironic that an aquarium so far from the ocean could display sea life with such panache. But then, it is situated on the world's most colorful deposits of Silurian marine life.


13. GRAFFITI
NEW YORK.
Unless one wants to lean heavily on Pilsen murals (which might be against the rules), this particular comparison is probably the worse spanking Chicago gets. In New York, there's graffiti everywhere, and a lot of it is awesome.


14. THEATER
CHICAGO.
I've seen some great theater in New York. But what I've never seen in New York a brilliant blackbox multimedia political parody of Scooby Doo in which $5 buys admission plus all the PBR you can drink.


15. SKYLINE
TIE.
Too different to compare. Early and changing building ordinances in New York imposed many different requirements on buildings for setbacks and spacing. This, combined with Manhattan's density, its irregular streets downtown, topographical variation, and the lack of alleys has created a rugged, craggy skyline that looks like mountains eroded over hundred of millions of years. Chicago, by comparison, is stark, austere, monolithic. There appears to be more of a plan to its layout, with the neat grid and fixation with clean rectangles. At the same time, Chicago has managed to avoid a lot of the explicit commercial construction that plagues New York, and despite the recent construction of (what a friend calls) "architrocities" on the periphery of the Loop, the Loop itself seems more quintessentially American: sharp and angular. Mountains rising from the prairie.


16. PARKS
NEW YORK.
Millennium Park is a marvel... let's just admit it. It looks like one of those awesome computer-generated cities-of-the-future we saw in the early 90s. And all of Chicago's flagship parks have something to offer. It's just that New York offers a lot more of this. How many worlds have been driven into and through Central Park? And how has Prospect Park been impacted so thoroughly by rolling meadows right there between Park Slope and Crown Heights? Hell, even Corona Park, with its lakes and lagoons and the Unisphere seems like this dreamy thing that half-Queens and half-Martian as envisioned by Ray Bradbury.


17. COFFEE
NEW YORK.
I'm sure the cities are neck-and-neck for fancy schmancy gooey deluxe coffee treat stuff. But I've never cared about that. Small coffee black no sugar is my poison. You can get it on any busy street corner in Manhattan for about a dollar. You don't even get it that cheap in Flint!


18. WATERFRONT
CHICAGO.
Now this is perhaps the most obvious of all. In fact, the New York waterfront has a nice level of diversity, being some 1 part pretty park space, 3 parts industrial sprawl, 3 parts highway/roadway, 4 parts other. What is truly objectionable about the New York lakefront is the lack of access in most cases. Not only does Chicago have twentyish miles of beautiful parklike setting, with dripping grass and black oaks, beaches, rocks, waves and sky, but most importantly, it's all public! For the last two years I've lived about two blocks from the East River, but I have to walk over a mile if I actually want to touch the water.


19. NEW YORK'S LEGITIPAPER (NEW YORK TIMES) VS. CHICAGO'S LEGITIPAPER (CHICAGO TRIBUNE)
NEW YORK.
No contest.


20. NEW YORK'S RANKING TABLOID (NEW YORK POST) VS. CHICAGO'S RANKING TABLOID (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES)
CHICAGO.
No contest.


21. CITY.
CHICAGO.
What can I say? I'm a Midwestern kid. More on this tomorrow...

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