Chicago’s Chinatown is an awkwardly formed place. It can be difficult to find, for one thing. And once there, it’s easy to visit and come away thinking that the whole of it is contained on its main street, Wentworth Avenue. Certainly, it has most of the showstopper/predictably Chinese-styled architecture:
There’s a lot more to the area geographically, though. West of Wentworth, a fairly typical older Chicago neighborhood is all that’s left of the original streets of the area, severely hacked away by several surrounding freeways. Architecturally, it’s of little note, but pleasant enough.
Chinatown’s business district spills out along Cermak as well, though the street’s large size and busy traffic make it intimidating to cross and essentially make these blocks isolated and inert compared to bustling Wentworth.
North of Cermak, a strangely underdeveloped triangle of land framed by Archer, Wentworth and Cermak is even more isolated, despite being a necessary bridge between Wentworth and the nearby Chinatown Square mall.
The mall is a recent development, dating back to the 1980s. It thrives despite a somewhat fortress-like attitude toward its neighborhood. It seems to offer virtually no connection to the adjacent streets, but a large central plaza — maybe too large — invites visitors to cross Archer and come explore. And once you’re in, it’s a small city of its own, filled with bustling restaurants and shops of every stripe.
An entire new neighborhood has risen north of Archer in recent years, on former railroad territory. Of course, it wouldn’t be Chicago if it didn’t involve marching ranks of nigh-identical buildings, but there are some interesting and pleasant spaces among them, and the decorative tastes of the owners leaves no doubt as to what part of town you’re in.
And finally, there’s the lovely Ping Tom Memorial Park along the river. Surrounded by active and busy railroads on three sides (including one that regularly cuts off the only route in and out of the park), it’s not exactly a perfect oasis, but it has lovely views of the South Branch and the downtown skyline in the distance, and its winding paths are almost long enough to get away from it all.
These photos and more can be seen large at my Flickr space.