The downtown borders thread got me thinking about what elements people tend to associate with a "downtown." What are some the things that play into your decision of whether or not a given area is downtown?
To me it's the metro areas main commercial business district (ie the Loop) and its immediate surrounding residential area. Most downtowns have a mix of its largest commercial buildings, the densest residential areas, and entertainment districts (theatre district, museums, etc.) and prestigious retail (like N. Mich Ave and State st). Any continuous built up environment should be considered also. In chicago's case, the skyline is continuous from north ave to roosevelt (and even south to cermak as the south loop is filled in).
This is why I think downtown Chicago includes river north, gold coast and mag mile areas, and even the south loop (btw I said dt was bordered by North Ave, Halsted, Cermak and the lake). These areas have ranging aspects of commercial, dense residential, retail, and entertainment, and are all part of a continuous built up environment. Again, its all a judgement call, but thats my perspective.
i'd consider north ave. to be the start of downtown chicago, but that's coming from a former edgewater resident's perspective. for most of our NU friends who lived in Evanston, DT chicago started at the top of Michigan Ave and ended with the museum campus--i bet most of them never even crossed the north-south branch of the river to visit the west loop.
of course, since the lousy CTA took so long we'd strech "downtown" all the way up to wrigley sometimes, just to pacify our minds.
overall though, I think most everyone agrees the loop is certainly the heart of downtown chicago--that's why it's so great to see people moving back to occupy it.
hydrogen, would it be easier to answer your question by listing all the important Chicago sites and activities that are not in the downtown area? I believe if one does this, you get a picture of how overwelming the concentration is within the loosely defined areas of downtown (so for the sake of argument...let's say Cermak on the south, UC/Med Ctr on the west, North Ave on the north).
That would give you: Museum of Science of Industry, U of C, the Cell, IIT, Garfield Park conservatory, Midway, Jackson Park in general, Lincoln Park in general, LPZ, Chgo Hist Museum, Wrigley
I know that list could be padded, but it would still come up way short compared to downtown.
Well, Ed, you forgot O'Hare... that wouldn't exactly be "padding".
Anyway, downtown means different things in different cities. In cities where dense development, office towers, residential towers, and entertainment form a narrow strip (eg Atlanta, New York) downtown refers to the southern end of the strip, which is usually the oldest.
Then you have the Midtown moniker, which a lot of cities are adopting for some of their neighborhoods, without too much geographical reason to do so.
Anyway, I think the whole thing is very ambiguous in large metropolitan areas, where some suburbanites will think of anything within the city's borders as "downtown". Obviously, NYC and maybe LA do not suffer from this problem because pretty much everybody knows the basic facts of how those cities are set up, through movies, TV, books, etc.
Then there's Philly, which has completely shunned the Downtown moniker and instead uses "Center City", which is actually a better description of the place.
and I'll go back to the suggestion I made awhile ago:
since the Loop is only a part of a super downtown and that new downtown should have its own identity, I gave it the name "The Circuit", thinking of the Circle Line that defines a loop with much wider parameters.
The Circuit (or a name like it), would give much needed identity to the expanded downtown area in Chicago and make us even more distinctive.
Perhaps we could follow Manhattan's demarcation system with an "Uptown Chicago" running from Devon Avenue south to North Avenue; "Midtown Chicago" running from North Avenue south to Roosevelt Road; and "The Stations" (or some designation comprable to "The Battery") running from Roosevelt Road to Hyde Park? Of course this geography would take a decade or so to become part of the city's "psyche," but it suggests a city of greater dimensions than that of "downtown."
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