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Millennium Park, Chicago, Illinois

August 21, 2009

This past summer I had the opportunity to visit Chicago for the first time.  I had read Donald Miller’s book, City of the Century: The Epic of Chicago and the Making of America, which provided me with the means to understand the forces that had shaped the city’s early days.  I took this newly-minted (and still rather rudimentary) knowledge of Chicago with me as I walked the streets in the Loop, reflecting on the present built environment and the people moving though it and using it, while imagining the clamor and chaos of yesteryear, a spectacular cacophony of commerce that drove glass and steel into the sky, to dizzying heights.  The best way to learn about a place is to engage different parts of the mind–read about it, and then hit the pavement and have a look around–really look, if you can.

I had also had the opportunity to learn a bit about the making of Millennium Park.  Timothy Gilfoyle’s book was too huge to read in its entirety before traveling, but I flipped through the pictures enough to know I had to check it out.  The views within the park and looking out from the park to the surrounding colossal skyline are truly staggering.  Here I was able to stay put and really observe one vantage of that landscape, and consider what the landscape has to say about the forces, both natural and human, that made it a reality.  Anish Kapoor’s sculpture, “The Cloud Gate,” facilitates this contemplation, as its polished surface takes that landscape and bends it into fantastic forms: the city’s raw form is “re-mixed” in a way that we can reflect on the parts and the whole, seeing it with fresh eyes.

The sketch below is really just an artifact or relic of that process of trying to see a place more deeply.  A decade ago I lost the sketchbooks that accompanied me during a two-month stay in Italy, but I can still vividly remember those places, because in drawing them, I had to really focus, and learn the place.  I would encourage any geographer to supplement his or her field notes with sketches, however “crude” the drawing may seem.  That place will become etched in your memory.

sketch of Millennium Park

sketch from Millennium Park, Chicago, featuring Anish Kapoor's "The Cloud Gate," by Jake Coolidge, 2009

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