Without visiting, it’d be easy to throw Chicago into any number of categories. Everyone thinks they know Chicago; after all, it’s the third-largest city in America, the most prestigious foodie city in the country, the city of jazz, a comedian’s playground, an architect’s dream, a writer’s paradise. The list goes on. Only when walking the streets themselves do you realize there’s nothing categorical about the Windy City, especially as it continues to evolve.
Chicago is home to 77 neighborhoods, each carrying its own distinct flavor and vibe that melds into the overall cultural melting pot that makes Chicago such a diverse destination. “Chicago is much more than its exciting downtown area,” said Lynn Osmond, president and CEO, Choose Chicago, and a resident of more than 25 years. “One of my priorities at Choose Chicago is investing in neighborhood tourism to drive visitors to these neighborhoods. Travelers today are seeking authentic experiences, and Chicago is full of genuine attractions that keep people coming back for more. We are not a one-trick pony, and that bodes well for our global perception now and into the future.”
During the pandemic, the city expanded its outdoor dining program in an effort to help the hard-hit restaurant communities throughout its neighborhoods. The program was so successful that, in 2021, the city launched the Chicago Alfresco Program to award grants to help expand outdoor enjoyment across the city. Neighborhoods like Chatham, Humboldt Park and Rogers Park used given funds to activate vibrant outdoor spaces with community-centric attractions like craft markets, public art installations and plywood parklets that drew visitors while bolstering a strong sense of community pride in each respective neighborhood.
Another neighborhood undergoing major revitalization efforts is Bronzeville, always a cultural powerhouse and historically known as the city’s “Black Metropolis,” which influential Black figures like Richard Wright, Louis Armstrong and Ida B. Wells once called home. Bronzeville was the birthplace of gospel music, and both the city’s management and its residents rally around the neighborhood’s growing art scene and historic landmarks to promote and preserve what has become one of the most authentic — and essential — Chicago experiences.
“The Bronzeville Lakefront project is revitalizing the site of the former Michael Reese Hospital,” said Larita Clark, chief executive officer, Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Author- ity, and lifelong Chicago resident. “This incredible mega-redevelopment will lift up surrounding communities and bring new life to Chicago’s historic Bronzeville community. It is a perfect example of how Chicago can honor its rich cultural history while continuing to innovate and make progress.
Voted the most anticipated megaproject of 2022 by Urbanize Chicago, the project will span more than 48 acres along the shore of Lake Michigan, transforming the former site of Michael Reese Hospital into a campus of health and wellness. A web of parks and open spaces will weave in and out of the new retail, commercial and residential buildings with the intention of fostering community and engaging in the city’s thriving cultural scene.
Bronzeville lies just down the road from McCormick Place Convention Center, the largest convention center in North America. “We have seen an impressive return of conventions and trade shows to Chicago this year,” Osmond noted, “in fact, the summer months were the busiest ever in terms of total events at McCormick Place.” The overarching mission of McCormick Place is to bring people together for the betterment of the Chicago area and Illinois as a whole, and despite having succeeded in that mission for the last 60 years, the center has a few exciting projects on its horizon.
“One particular infrastructure project that I am excited about is Amtrak’s proposed Chicago Hub Improvement Program (CHIP),” said Clark, who oversees the entire McCormick Square campus as part of her role at MPEA. “This revolutionary project would add direct access to McCormick Place for Amtrak travelers, making it even more convenient to attend events on our campus.”
Clark encourages anyone attending an event at McCormick Place to take a trip up the Lakefront Trail to visit the rest of Museum Campus, including Shedd Aquarium, Field Museum and Adler Planetarium. “I genuinely believe the communities near the McCormick Place campus offer some of the best and most diverse experiences in Chicago,” she added. “Our campus is fortunate to be close to historic and vibrant neighborhoods such as Bronzeville, Motor Row, Chinatown and the Prairie District. Chicago is a special city, and I wake up every day feeling fortunate to lead an organization whose mission centers on bringing people together.”
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