by j.p. anderson | April 25, 2014 | People
Chicago Loop Alliance exec Michael Edwards sings the praises of the neighborhood where he works and lives.
Even longtime Chicagoans can get a new perspective on the city aboard a Chicago Architecture Foundation River Cruise.
The Loop is rightly renowned as a financial and corporate hub, theater district, shopping destination, and cultural hot spot. But for thousands of Windy City residents—including Michael Edwards, executive director of Chicago Loop Alliance—this sector of skyscrapers is something more: home. As CLA launches its inaugural Living Loop Performing Arts Festival, a 12-week series of free, site-specific performances around the neighborhood starting in June, Edwards—who arrived in Chicago in late 2012 after holding positions in economic development in Pittsburgh and Spokane, Washington—reflects on how, for him, this downtown district is the ideal place for work and play.
“One of the trends has been that people are moving into the Loop, so when I got here I thought I would live in the neighborhood myself. What I really enjoy is that it’s so intense and busy—there’s global commerce going on all around you—and yet you have your own space. It’s a nice little refuge.
Edwards relishes the vitality of the city’s downtown eateries.
“I’m a big runner and cyclist. I live at Wells and Washington, so I run west from there and north onto the Riverwalk, which is already great but is going to be even better after the extension that’s under way. And of course, being able to run along the lake is just phenomenal. I try to come back through Grant Park, and the run along Michigan Avenue on the park feels very urban. It’s a great park experience, and with all the buildings around it’s just beautiful.
“I really enjoy the variety of restaurants here—traditional Chicago restaurants on Wabash like the Exchequer Restaurant & Pub. The food there is good and there’s lots of it—ribs, chicken wings, fish. The people are really sweet, and it has a great Chicago vibe. I also like some of the newer modern restaurants, like The Gage, which is full of vitality. There’s a little bit of business going on and a lot of people having fun—it’s a microcosm of what cities are really good at, which is bringing people together to exchange ideas and make connections that create social and economic development. That’s why we have cities.
A vacant storefront becomes a temporary art gallery thanks to Chicago Loop Alliance’s Pop-Up Art Loop program.
“There are a lot of bookstores in the Loop, but my favorite is Sandmeyer’s, just outside the Loop on Printer’s Row. It’s locally owned, and I can never walk out of there without buying something. I’m reading a lot about Chicago these days, and they have a lot of Chicago books, as well as books on urban planning and how we live in cities; being in a first-tier city, this is my first experience with that. When I was in Spokane or Pittsburgh, the energy felt like ‘Well, those things happen over there, in Chicago and LA.’ Now I’m in the middle of it all.
“I’m also a fan of the Impressionist collection at the Art Institute, particularly Monet and Degas. I was just there with my daughter and she wanted to see some of Degas’s dancers, so we walked by and there they were. I also took the Chicago Architecture Foundation River Cruise with my daughter, which gave me an appreciation for everything along the river. I was amazed at how engaged people were, the oohs and aahs. I think it’s one of the best ways for people to really understand what’s going on in Chicago.
“I’m a once-a-month cigar guy, and my go-to cigar bar is Iwan Ries & Co., which has been around since 1857. The cigar store is open all day long, and in the evenings you can bring your own liquor. It’s a nice, comfortable, dark place just to smoke, and it’s on the second floor, so the trains are going by outside the window and you’re connected to the whole Chicago experience.
A crowd settles in for a free concert in Millennium Park’s Pritzker Pavilion.
“The architecture of the Loop is incredible, particularly the Reliance Building. The glass, the terra-cotta glazing… it’s a beautifully done building at a great corner with a great use in the Atwood restaurant. It’s everything a building should be, in my estimation. And Millennium Park has been a real game-changer for the area as well. My favorite part of it is the Crown Fountain. I love to see people’s interaction with it and the changing faces and the water. It’s terrific.
“It’s such a convenience to live in this area; everything is right at your fingertips. There’s nothing you can’t do in the Loop. And living here, I feel like I’m really part of something that matters. Here you’re actually in meetings with people who are making a difference worldwide. That’s an exciting feeling to have.”
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