July 27, 2005
Chicago loves to brag.
World's Busiest Airport (Well, once upon a time.)
World's Greatest Newspaper (You decide which one.)
World's Greatest Lake (Or at least a great lake.)
World's Best Patronage (Or its worst, depending on your politics.)
World's Best Bad Baseball (You know who I mean.)
And any self-respecting Chicagoan still notifies every out-of-town guest that the Sears Tower used to be the World's Tallest Building, even though that title was squashed years ago.
But "used to be" isn't good enough for us. "Used to be" bragging rights are made for towns like St. Louis, Detroit and Omaha. Chicago needs to brag in the present tense.
So now the battle is on to fortify our claim to the tallest building in North America, if not on the planet, by building something bigger than the Sears. Bigger than New York's proposed Freedom Tower. Bigger than the projectile Donald Trump is erecting on the Chicago River.
Fordham Spire it would be called, proving developers aren't always good at developing the world's greatest names. The building would shoot from roots on Lake Shore Drive, its tip piercing the sky beyond 2,000 feet. It would resemble, depending on which poet's image you prefer, a birthday candle, a twirling rocket or the world's most terrifying dentist's drill.
"It's going to put Chicago on the map," Ald. Burt Natarus was quoted as saying.
Wait a minute. Put Chicago on the map? Is there at present any map of any consequence that omits the World's Greatest Second City (even though technically it's now third)?
So what that we're not on the map of the World's Best Winters. Or the map of the World's Fittest Residents. Or the map of Spain. Chicago is already grandly planted on all the maps that matter. (The map of the World's Biggest Potholes.)
Besides, another battle of the jumbo skyscrapers seems kind of 20th Century, quaint, like a Hula-Hoop contest or a potato sack race.
Humankind has proved it can do big. Do we have to keep proving we can do bigger?
This is the century to prove that Chicago is the World's Greatest Recycler (can the blue bags) or the World's Most Wi-Fi'd Town (current winner in my book: Portland).
Do we really need another big building?
Yes, we the World's Biggest Braggarts, do.
Superlatives, like skyscrapers, are part of Chicago's civic psyche. We need them--lots of them--like the lawn needs rain in the World's Driest Summer.
And there's nothing like a big building to give us more to brag about, even if we wouldn't want to live there.
I wouldn't want to live there at any rate. There are two kinds of people in the world: low-rise people and high-rise people. Low-rise people like to know they could get out of the building fast in case of fire. That if they tossed a coin to the ground they'd hear it ping. They like to look at tree branches.
High-rise people like elevators more than stairs. They prefer living so far above the world that if they tossed a coin to the ground, it would, silently, dent the brain of a pedestrian. They like the treetops down there in the distance.
As a low-rise person, I can admire the power of a high-rise, but still those sky-climbing monsters terrify me. Not because they're terrorist targets but simply because they are so inhumanly, bombastically large, taunting gravity as much as any airplane.
The first time I visited Chicago as an adult, I arrived at night. I'd come up from the lowlands of Florida and understood Chicago's size only through the night lights, which is to say I didn't understand at all. Only the next morning did I see how big those buildings really were. I stepped outside, looked toward the sky and, in awe and fear, wanted to throw up.
But if you can't stand the height, get out of the city. Big is who Chicago is. Biggest is who we need to be. So bring on the Fordham Spire.
If it's built, we will brag.
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