It maybe 24 degrees outside, but not even the cold can dampen the excitement of this group for an afternoon urban adventure.
The View from the Ground Up
It’s a good mix of people. Visitors from Atlanta, Boston, and India are eager to explore the city on foot. Two friends just recently moved back from Arizona and are enthusiastic to get reacquainted with Chicago. But I was pleasantly surprised to discover that more than half of today’s tour participants live here−deciding to trade lunch for a walk around town. “Majority of people who join my tours are actually Chicagoans. That’s the beauty of walking tours. It’s a unique way of experiencing a city, even the one you grew up in. The view from the ground up offers a new perspective,” Max Grinnell, urbanologist and walking tour expert, shares.
“Just when you think you know Chicago−a hidden corner, a second glance at a building you take for granted, or a story about an old hotel you pass by at work−surprise you.”
With our walking shoes, coats, and cameras ready, off we go!
Chicago’s Radical Reinvention
Inspired by the Library’s 2018-19 One Book One Chicago selection by Philip K. Dick, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, today’s tour is a unique take on Chicago as a futuristic city. “Chicago is an architectural mecca. It was always ahead of its time.” Max explains. This is evident as we walk through the mahogany-lined grand hallway of the Monadnock Building, the first building in Chicago to be wired for electricity or as we stand in awe of Alex Calder’s Flamingo at the center of the Federal Plaza, the first public art program installation in the country.
“But what makes Chicago truly a city of the future is its constant transformation,” Max states with a passion of an urban enthusiast, then points us to the breathtaking skyscrapers, turn-of-the-century iconic buildings blending beautifully with the modern hybrid of engineering and art. Such a backdrop framing the Loop coupled with the sound of the el above us and the flow of crowds around makes Chicago more vibrant, more alive. “This is what I like about walking tours. You absorb what the city has to offer, sights, sounds, and smell with a certain intimacy,” a woman (a walking tour regular) beside me states. I could not agree more.
As we make our way down State Street, I ask Max, “Was it difficult to conceptualize a tour based from a sci-fi novel?” “Creating a program about a book with androids and electric sheep did have its challenges,” he says with a laugh. Turning quite pensive, Max continues, “I had to be more creative than usual. I started with Philip K. Dick’s life−what buildings were around the day he was born? What construction feat was happening when he was writing the book?”
“Eventually, I took the spirit of the novel−a city in evolution both in architecture and identity, then I realized how taken from that perspective, it is a perfect theme for Chicago.
Talk the Talk, Walk the Walk
What makes Chicago Public Library walking tours unique are conversations that happen during and in-between steps. Max encourages questions and answers what he can. His stories traverse from the historical to the personal, opening a dialogue for people to exchange anecdotes, opinions, and feelings about the city. “Not only do walking tours give you a sense of place, they also give you a sense of community. We’re experiencing this particular Chicago together,” Max shares.
The Book is Just the Beginning
We began our journey at Harold Washington. It is only fitting that we end it in the library, or at least what used to be the library’s former home and is now the Cultural Center. “It is quite an enriching experience,” one of the participants say. “I feel like I just uncovered a new layer of this huge, complex, and charming city.”
This sense of discovery or (re)discovery of Chicago is the launching pad for One Book One Chicago. “The book is just the beginning. This library program is an opportunity for everyone to explore, understand, and appreciate the city through immersive experiences like art, music, literary discussions, and of course, walking tours,” Jen Lizak, Coordinator of Special Projects and Civic Engagement at the Chicago Public Library, explains. At One Book One Chicago, you get to view the city and the world through a different lens.
This season which runs through April, we imagine the future of Chicago through the sci-fi world of Philip K. Dick’s novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Are you ready? Let’s start here.
We are grateful for our program partners, United Airlines for making One Book One Chicago possible. You can also support Chicagoans to (re)discover this beloved city here.