The photo above is of the Chicago landscape at night. I had the pleasure of seeing a similar image as I flew into Midway airport recently. I was mesmerized as I looked out my window and could not peel my eyes off the glittering landscape below. During daytime one can usually discern the layout of a city by the blocks and ribbons of white and red lights on the road. However, at night, cities frequently turn into patches of fuzzy yellow light and darkness. Chicago is startling, for the logic of the city is actually more apparent at night than during the day.
This view illuminates Daniel Burnham‘s genius. Chicago’s grid – not quite radiating, but rather flowing – from its central loop is traced by row upon row of perfectly aligned street lights. The grid at once appears startling simple – straight lines conversing an entire city – and and overwhelmingly complex – thinking of how many people utilize that landscape, and for how many purposes. Moreover, as a directionally-challenged individual, I love seeing straight streets, logically spaced, running perfectly north, south, east and west. Perhaps it also arises from my love affair with Philadelphia’s Penn-laid grid.
In my opinion, cities are one of the greatest creations of man. Cities themselves are organisms, incredibly complex and beautiful. There is an astounding brilliance in the operation of a great city. The grid of Chicago makes the city look both like a beautiful organism and an astounding machine. Each city has its imperfections, but the night view makes Chicago glimmer.