By Johanna Read
Mayor Rahm Emanuel of Chicago said, “I want Chicago to be the greenest city in the world.” He didn’t just mean the St. Patrick’s Day dying of the Chicago River, and so Chicago should be on the list of must-visit cities for readers of The Wayward Post.
You’ll have lots of choice for green hotels in Chicago. If you’re looking to promote cultural sustainability too, consider SpringHill Suites. SpringHill Suites’ new Art of Local program brings local artists to the attention of guests and works with FreshArtists.org to provide art programming to low-income schools. They have several environmental initiatives too, including using reclaimed wood furniture and low-water / low-allergen air plants. SpringHill Suites’ Downtown/River North location is convenient to Chicago’s highlights including the river and Millennium Park.
Chicago also offers lots of green dinner choices, especially thanks to Next Bites. Next Bites is a Chicago non-profit organization that helps both diners and the food industry improve restaurant sustainability. Their initiatives include aiding in food scrap recycling and providing information to help restaurants and caterers gain the org’s Guaranteed Green certification.
For tonight’s dinner, try Frontera Grill. Close to SpringHill Suites in the River North neighbourhood, this Mexican eatery has a 3-star Green Certification. Open for lunch, dinner and brunch, Frontera Grill won a James Beard Outstanding Restaurant Award.
After dinner, listen to live jazz at Untitled Supper Club, where you can also enjoy whiskey tastings in their old-world library with a speakeasy feel.
Walk over to the Chicago River. The waterway is famously dyed green every St. Patrick’s Day, but did you know this was originally an environmental initiative?
When the city’s riverfront was being revitalized in the 1950s, a big challenge was the sewage- and pollution-filled river. Then-mayor Richard J. Daley authorized the adding of a special dye to the river which would help identify exactly where illegal dumping was occurring. In 1961, a plumber and chairman of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade spotted a worker in green-soaked overalls coming from one of these dumping investigations and an idea was born. Over the years a more fish-friendly, vegetable-based dye is used and the local Plumbers Union is still in charge of the annual dying of the now much healthier river.
A river cruise is an ideal way to explore Chicago’s spectacular architecture. Chicago’s First Lady Cruises, a docent from the Chicago Architecture Foundation leads a 1.5-hour historical tour explaining the Windy City’s riverfront buildings, including the adaptations in building design to accommodate Chicago’s famous winds.
After your cruise, keep near the river and take a stroll along the Riverwalk. Not only can you admire your favourite buildings at your own pace, but you’ll discover live music, public art and 18 movable bridges within a two-mile stretch.
Enjoy a lunch with river views at River Roast. Their patio looks out onto the Riverwalk near LaSalle Bridge and River Roast is one of the few restaurants in Chicago where you can dine outdoors enjoying river views. Sit inside if you’d like to be closer to the live music they often have for weekend brunch.
Afterward, head over to Millennium Park’s 25 acres of green space. The Lurie Garden, a five-acre, four-season garden, pays homage to the transformation of Chicago from a flat marshland to its current “Urbs in Horto,” Chicago’s motto of City in a Garden. One of the world’s largest green roofs (it is built over a parking garage), the Lurie Garden has 222 different species, with 40% native to North America and 26% native to the state of Illinois. The garden doesn’t use synthetic pesticides, so it attracts birds and butterflies and ably hosts two beehives.
Millennium Park has lots to discover. There are often art exhibits and live music in the park, and The Art Institute of Chicago and the Chicago Cultural Center are right across the street. Stroll along the serpentine Frank Gehry-designed SOM-engineered BP Bridge, which takes pedestrians over Columbus Drive to Maggie Daley Park. The bridge’s curved, stainless steel-covered berm provides an acoustic barrier from the eight lanes of traffic below. The soft curves and continuous five percent slope make it wheelchair accessible and helped Millennium Park win a Barrier-Free America Award for exemplary barrier-free design. Look back over your shoulder to see if you can tell that Millennium Park has a parking garage underneath. And before you leave, don’t forget to snap a photo of your reflection in the Chicago skyline at “The Bean,” Anish Kapoor’s sculpture officially known as Cloud Gate.
For dinner, try Avec Restaurant, on the other side of the South Branch of the Chicago River from Millennium Park. This shared plates restaurant uses Midwest ingredients from local purveyors to create a rustic menu with echoes of Southern Europe’s wine regions. The restaurant has a 2-star Guaranteed Green certification.
Explore Chicago’s further neighbourhoods by bike. The city has over 200 miles of on-street bike lanes, many of which are protected from auto traffic, as well as miles of bike paths. Chicago has plans for a 645-mile bike path network to be in place by 2020. Cruise the city using Chicago’s bike share system, Divvy. A 24-hour pass costs $9.95 and includes unlimited rides under 30 minutes.
Lakefront Trail North provides a scenic cycle. Riding north from Oak Street Beach, you’ll arrive at Lincoln Park and find the Chicago History Museum and the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum. The former is Chicago’s oldest cultural institution and its permanent exhibition includes Facing Freedom in America, about the quest for equality. The latter has displays about the ecological history of the region and includes over 23,000 fossils.
For lunch, try one of the vegetarian restaurants near Lincoln Park, such as Snap Kitchen.
On the way back to SpringHill Suites, stop by Navy Pier. This fifty-acre, not-for-profit landmark on the shores of Lake Michigan features a 3,300-foot long pier into Lake Michigan. Originally opened in 1916, this area now boasts a children’s museum, a botanical garden, a Shakespeare theatre, and lots of outdoor art. Before you leave Chicago, take a ride on the new Centennial Wheel to admire views of Chicago's skyline from almost 200 feet in the air. Like much of Chicago’s architecture, the Ferris wheel is fortified to withstand high winds (up to 115 miles per hour). The previous Ferris wheel was recently moved to Branson, Missouri, as the Chicago owners wanted it to be sold not to the highest bidder, but interviewed candidates to ensure it went to a destination where its nostalgic history would be respected.