Chicago from the Air

Chicago from the Air

Every day, Chicagoans travel through their city by bike or car, on foot or public transit. But what would we learn if we examine our city from the vantage point of a bird? In Chicago from the Air, we do just that. Seeing the city from above provides a brand-new perspective, enabling us to discover new things about how our city is designed, how it works, and how the city’s motto — Urbs in Horto — plays out today... Read more

What You'll See from the Air

On and Off the Grid

  • The Loop

    Chicago’s central business district is where the city’s grid system begins.

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  • State Street and Madison Street

    The city’s grid system is calculated from the starting point at State and Madison streets. Read more.

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  • Halsted Street

    Halsted is one of the city’s large arterial streets, running north from West Pullman all the way to Lakeview.

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  • 43rd & Wallace and North Avenue & Pulaski

    While Chicago is laid out on an even grid, every now and then there’s a hiccup, like at 43rd and Wallace or North Avenue and Pulaski.

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  • North, Milwaukee, & Damen

    Diagonal streets like Milwaukee cut through the right angles of the grid. Most of them follow the path of former Native American trails.

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  • Rogers Avenue, Indian Boundary Park, and Indian Boundary Golf Course

    The diagonal line of Rogers Avenue was established in an 1816 treaty that banished Native Americans to living north of it, reserving territory close to the Chicago River for white settlers. It bisects Indian Boundary Park and eventually hits Indian Boundary Golf Course.

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  • Ogden & North Branch, Ogden & Clybourn

    From the air, you can still see where Ogden used to run diagonally across Goose Island and through Lincoln Park, although you might not recognize it at ground level.

  • Clark & Armitage

    The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre happened just a few blocks from where Ogden terminated at Clark Street.

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  • South Chicago

    A row of houses in South Chicago follows an abandoned B&O Railroad right of way, adding a slant to the neighborhood.

  • Old Bridgeport

    Old Bridgeport, originally called Hardscrabble, predates the grid, hence its diagonal orientation.

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  • Eisenhower, Dan Ryan, and Kennedy Expressways

    In the 1950s and 60s, large swaths of disproportionately immigrant, Black, and Brown neighborhoods were bulldozed to build these expressways.

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  • Beverly and Grand Boulevard

    Many wealthier neighborhoods, like Beverly, have a lush canopy of trees. Meanwhile, neighborhoods like Grand Boulevard lack trees – a sign of inequity.

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  • Sandburg Village

    Sandburg Village, at LaSalle and Clark Streets, replaced a Puerto Rican barrio nicknamed “La Clark.”

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  • Riverside, IL

    West-suburban Riverside was one of America’s first planned suburbs, and was designed to look “natural,” with its sinuous streets.

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  • Rolling Meadows and Kenilworth

    In some suburbs, developers laid streets in a curving pattern to differentiate from the urban street grid.

  • Auburn Park

    Auburn Park, with its scenic lagoon, is a remnant of the wetland that was drained to develop the rural retreat of a community in the late 1800s.

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  • Old Norwood Park

    Norwood Park was envisioned as a resort area in the 1860s.

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  • Old Edgebrook

    Old Edgebrook was built in the 1890s for officials of a nearby railroad, but plans to build a larger commuter suburb were never fulfilled, leaving the surrounding land to be bought up by the Forest Preserves in 1918.

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  • Scottsdale and Jeffrey Manor

    Some neighborhoods within city limits were designed to feel like a suburb.

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Doin' Work

  • Port of Chicago and Calumet River

    The maritime industry moved here to the Calumet River on the South Side in the early 1900s.

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  • Exelon City Solar

    Exelon claims this is the nation’s largest urban solar plant, producing enough to power 1,500 homes per year.

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  • Ford Assembly Plant

    Ford’s oldest continuously operating plant opened in 1924 to produce Model-Ts. Now it cranks out Ford Explorers and Lincoln Aviators.

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  • Lake Calumet

    Lake Calumet was once known for its natural beauty and abundant wildlife. After the anticipated opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway in 1958, the lake was deepened and long peninsulas were added to serve as slips for freighters.

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  • Big Marsh Bike Park

    As part of a repurposing of industrial land for recreation and nature, the eastern shore of the Lake Calumet, formerly full of waste from steel mills, is now available for stunt bike riders.

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  • The 78 Parcel

    This swath of land was once a tangle of railroad yards straddling a bend in the river straightened between 1928 and 1930. Now, developer Related Midwest is building a $7 billion mixed-use development.

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  • Major Taylor Trail

    This Far South Side bike trail on an abandoned rail line is named for a Black cyclist who won the 1899 world championship who was routinely banned from racing in the United States.

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  • The 606

    This popular trail is built on a rail embankment abandoned in the 1990s.

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  • Palmisano Park

    This manmade canyon operated as a quarry for about 130 years before being turned into a landfill for construction debris in 1970. By 2009, it had become a new park designed by Site Design.

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  • Bubbly Creek

    This notorious tributary to the Chicago River’s South Branch was once an open sewer running from the nearby Union Stockyards that bubbled due to the decomposing animal waste in it.

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  • Stickney Water Treatment Plant

    This is one of the largest water treatment plants in the world, serving 2.3 million people.

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  • Goose Island

    Chicago’s first mayor William B. Ogden created Goose Island in the mid-1800s by digging a channel east of the river.

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  • Thornton Quarry

    This quarry in the far south suburbs is one of the largest in the world, used for stone that’s crushed up to make gravel and concrete.

  • Marina City, Aqua Tower, and Vista Tower

    These downtown skyscrapers make creative use of concrete.

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  • The Reliance Building, Merchandise Mart, Burnham Center, and AMA Plaza

    What do these downtown buildings have in common? Metal frames.

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  • Willis Tower

    At 1,450 feet, this was once the tallest building in the world. It’s still the highest peak on Chicago’s skyline.

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  • City Hall

    Chicago has more than 500 green roofs, including on City Hall. They help clean the air and keep rainwater from overwhelming sewers.

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A City in a Garden

  • Skokie Lagoons

    The Skokie Lagoons were carved out of flood-prone swampland during the Depression by the Civilian Conservation Corps.

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  • Chicago Botanic Garden

    Opened in 1972, the 385-acre Chicago Botanic Garden features 27 gardens, nine islands, and four natural areas.

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  • Jackson Park, Wooden Island, and the Sky Landing Sculpture

    Landscape architects Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux designed this pleasure ground in the mid-1800s. Before it was finished it was chosen to host the 1893 World’s Fair. Only a few traces of the Fair remain, like the Wooded Island, which hosts a 2016 sculpture by Yoko Ono.

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  • Museum of Science and Industry

    The Museum of Science and Industry is the last pavilion from the Fair that is still standing.

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  • Independence Boulevard

    One of America’s first boulevard systems connects a chain of large parks on the South and West Sides dating from the mid-1800s.

  • Garfield Park

    William Le Baron Jenney, later credited with designing the world’s first skyscraper, was the chief landscape designer for Garfield Park.

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  • Garfield Park Conservatory

    Opened in 1906, this is one of the world’s largest greenhouses, designed by Jens Jensen in the shape of a Midwestern haystack.

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  • Bahá’i House of Worship

    The Bahá’i temple on the lakefront in Wilmette is one of only ten in the world, and the only one in the United States.

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  • North Shore Congregation

    Minoru Yamasaki, architect of New York’s World Trade Center towers, designed this mid-twentieth century temple.

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  • Orland Park Prayer Center

    Opened in 2006, this Islamic center is inspired by the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem.

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  • BAPS Mandir

    This Hindu temple was literally shipped from India in 40,000 pieces chiseled by some 3,000 artisans.

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  • St. Mary of the Angels

    Twenty-six angels surround a dome resembling St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome on this church built to serve tens of thousands of Polish immigrants.

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  • St. Stanislaus Kostka

    The Kennedy Expressway was routed around St. Stanislaus Kostka, which is built in the so-called “Polish cathedral” style.

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  • Quinn Chapel

    This church, founded in 1844, is home to Chicago’s oldest Black congregation. It was a stop on the Underground Railroad, and hosted famous speakers.

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  • First United Methodist Church

    This unusual skyscraper was built in 1924 as a combination office building and church. It has a sanctuary at street level and a tiny chapel in the base of the rooftop spire.

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  • 35th and 41st Street Bridges

    These dramatic pedestrian bridges allow South-Siders access to the lakefront over Lake Shore Drive and the Illinois Central railroad.

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  • Douglas Tomb

    Senator Stephen A. Douglas, a slaveholder, had an estate in Bronzeville, and his tomb and statue still tower over the Black neighborhood.

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  • Northerly Island

    The Burnham Plan of 1909 called for a string of manmade islands connected by bridges to the lakefront park, but Northerly Island was the only one ever built.

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  • Soldier Field

    The Burnham Plan of 1909 called for “athletic grounds,” where Soldier Field now stands.

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  • Museum Campus

    After the northbound lanes of Lake Shore Drive were relocated to the west in 1996, the Field Museum joined the Shedd Aquarium and Adler Planetarium to form Museum Campus.

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  • Grant Park

    For years, Grant Park was the stage for bitter battles over access to the lakefront.

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  • Millennium Park

    In 2004, the last lakefront remnant of railyards was covered up with the completion of MIllennium Park.

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Lead support for CHICAGO FROM THE AIR is provided by BMO Harris Bank and The Negaunee Foundation.

BMO Harris logo

Additional support is provided by AAA in partnership with Hertz; ComEd; ITW; Mark and Lisa Pinsky; Donna Van Eekeren, CEO & President of Springboard Arts Chicago; The Joseph & Bessie Feinberg Foundation; Judy and John McCarter; Ken Norgan; Joan and Paul Rubschlager; Chris and Priya Valenti; Carl Buddig and Company; and an anonymous donor.