A few weeks ago my parents flew to Chicago for an extended weekend. Living in Phoenix, they don’t get nearly as many opportunities to see Emma as we’d all like.
On the second day of their trip we walked half-a-mile down Kedzie boulevard to a small playground in Palmer Square. My dad spun Emma round-and-round and my mom taught her how to slide down a slide all by herself.
The next day we drove a few miles to Garfield Park Conservatory – the only time in four days, aside from airport trips, that we used the car. When we walked into the huge atrium my mom said, “I can’t believe this is free.”
The next morning we stepped out our front door and walked a hundred yards to the Logan Square Farmers Market. My mom remarked, “this puts any farmers market I’ve ever seen to shame.” My dad bought a loaf of bread from the baker, pretty much because it was too beautiful not to buy. Emma danced to the fiddle and practiced her yoga.
Sunday afternoon we drove my parents back to Midway and said goodbye. Emma and I took the long way home, stopping at Museum Campus, my favorite spot for reflecting on this great city.
Now, I’m not sure that it’s entirely accurate to say that the playgrounds, farmers markets, conservatories, and skyline views are “free” so much as they are “included in the rent.” But sometimes it’s hard to explain to folks in more suburban parts of the country why we pay so much for such a small apartment. And even though my parents have always been supportive of us living here, it was cool to watch them experience the benefits of city living for a weekend, especially in the context of hanging out with an eighteen-month old.
Rachel and I feel incredibly privileged to have lived in this great city for the last ten years. That said, having a kid forces us to wonder if Chicago, with its broken schools and comically corrupt politics, is the place we want to stay long term. Maybe it is. Maybe it isn’t. But we have all the info about this city that we need to make that decision. What we lack is perspective on what our other options are.
But if not Chicago, then where? Where can we go that offers as much city living, as much walkability, as many parks and playgrounds and farmers markets, as beautiful of architecture, and as rich a diversity of people and ideas? How much more would we have to give up to live there? How much more would we get back in return?