Location and orientation
Chicago is located in northern Illinois, on the southwestern shore of Lake Michigan, one of the Great Lakes. It covers over 520 sq. km/200 sq. mi, and has more than 32 km/20 mi of lakefront. Its suburbs sprawl out to the north, west, and south. The city itself is flat; some suburban areas have rolling hills.
The Chicago River and its two branches create the divisions between the North Side, the South Side, and the West Side. Although the river was not always been consistent in its direction of flow, it now flows away from Lake Michigan, thanks to a man-made canal and locks at the mouth of the river.
Illinois is in a region referred to as the Midwest, even though it is in the eastern third of the country. This designation originated during the country's early westward expansion, and generally includes the northern states between the Appalachian and Rocky Mountains: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, and Wisconsin. Chicagoans are often referred to as Midwesterners.
The city is laid out in a grid pattern, with Avenues running north and south, and Streets running east and west. Lake Shore Drive borders Lake Michigan, and is the city's eastern boundary.
The heart of downtown is referred to as The Loop because train tracks encircle the area. The Loop is the area west of Wabash Avenue, south of Lake Street, east of Wells Street, and north of Van Buren Street.
Chicago is proud of its architecture. Distinguished architects like Frank Lloyd Wright lent unique aspects to many of the city's buildings. More than 100 residences designed by Wright are in the Chicago metro area. Home to the first skyscraper, Chicago had bragging rights to the world's tallest building - the Willis Tower, formerly known as the Sears Tower – until 1997.
Other notable landmarks in the city are the Merchandise Mart, the largest commercial building in the world; McCormick Place, a vast convention center; the Adler Planetarium; and Michigan Avenue's upscale shopping district known as the Magnificent Mile.
Chicago's location on Lake Michigan and the Chicago River earmarked the city as a commercial center hundreds of years ago. Fur traders found the 1779 settlement a convenient stop on their way from the Great Lakes to the plains. Chicago was first a trading post, then was a military fort in 1812, and eventually became a shipping port when the canal was deepened in 1848. When the railroad arrived a few years later, Chicago's commercial appeal intensified.
A devastating fire in 1871 destroyed much of Chicago and killed several hundred people. The rebuilding process resulted in a fine city with buildings of stone and steel, rather than wood. Immigrants came in hordes to the city in the late 19th century, swelling the population.
In the 1920s and 1930s Chicago was defined, in many minds, by resident gangster Al Capone. After the notorious era of violence passed, the city prospered again, especially during World War II.
The last half of the 20th century saw slower population growth, but Chicago continues to be a vital commercial and cultural center of the United States.
After New York and Los Angeles, Chicago is the third largest U.S. city by population. Over nine million people live in the metro area. Nicknamed the Windy City, its stalwart residents stand up to the winds that blow off Lake Michigan and through the downtown streets. Interestingly, the moniker was reportedly bestowed on the city by a New York newspaperman, noting the storm of promotion surrounding the preparation for the 1893 World's Fair.
Business and culture
Chicago has many faces. It is an established city of business, a center of finance, industry, and culture for the Midwest and the country. It is frequently ranked among the best U.S. cities for ease of conducting international business. LaSalle and State Streets are major downtown business thoroughfares.
It is also a city known for literature and culture. Twentieth century American authors like Theodore Dreiser, Ernest Hemingway, Carl Sandburg, Saul Bellow and others all called Chicago home. The Art Institute of Chicago and the Museum of Contemporary Art are favorite destinations of residents and visitors, and arts communities are vibrant.
Other claims to fame
Not all of the city's facets are serious. Chicagoans are proud of the famous comedians that have been born there or launched from its popular comedy clubs. Sports fans are avid, and everyone, sports fan or not, takes pride in the city's rivalries and its athletes, such as Chicago Bulls basketball legend Michael Jordan.
While Chicago is not the most ethnically diverse city in the United States, it is known for its friendly, unpretentious residents. Newcomers are generally warmly welcomed, and should find living in Chicago a rich experience.