Skip to content

Comparisons to the Second City: Let’s take it From the Top

For those that are wondering; No, I’m not trying to be crazy when I compare the Magic City to Chicago, IL. Long before I moved here, I felt that Birmingham was quite similar to Chicago, IL. Once I arrived, I was told that the comparison should be made to Pittsburgh as both were cities built on steel. While it is closer to Pittsburgh in size, Birmingham’s offerings can rival that of the Windy City proportionally.

The point of the posts over the next few days is to look at the cities’ similarities and some of their differences in hopes of showing just how great of a city we already are, especially in comparison to what a major city. While having our own identity, it’s nice to see where we are compared to others. First, we’ll take a look from the highest points in town. The next entry will take a closer look at actual issues.

07302006-bets-and-andre-at.jpgThe city of Chicago’s name is taken from a Native American word meaning “garlic” or “wild onion” for the marshes that the city was built on. Chicago has two of the world’s tallest buildings; The Sears Tower and the John Hancock building. “Big John” and the Tower provide breathtaking views of the city in a part of the country where mountains… well they’re not there. My recent trip to the city included my first trip (begrudgingly) up into the Sears Tower. It took about one hour to get to the observation deck. Along the way we learned about the history of the building and viewed the history of some of Chicago’s other impressive architectural landmarks. So if you’re a diehard sports fan, think of it as doing the behind the scenes tour of the home team’s stadium complete with a chance to meet some of the players. Now think of two historians getting to do the equivalent in the built environment. Scary, huh?


Perched in the tower’s Skydeck, located on the 103rd floor, visitors are able to see both Wrigley Field and Comiskey Park, several of the landmark buildings of the Chicago Skyline, portions of Millennium and Grant Parks, and all of the neighborhoods on a clear day. Some images from a portion of Millennium Park, the Crown Fountain, are available for viewing in this post from last weekend. It’s a commanding view, showcasing man’s talent to try to reach skyward. Those in town this weekend for example should be able to enjoy views of visitors converging in Grant Park for Lollapalooza. Click here to visit the website and to watch live podcasts of the event.

Birmingham was developed in Jones Valley in the foothills to the foothills to the Appalachian Trail and is named for England’s primary industrial city. Its recent perceived limitations on height are partially due to the location of our airport, but also because there is not as much of a need to create artificial height when you have a Red Mountain to stand on top of to look out. The added height of Vulcan along Highway 31 provides visitors to its observation deck an unparalleled view of the metropolitan area.


From the viewing platform near Vulcan’s feet you can enjoy a similar surveying our city, seeing Sloss Furnaces, the City Federal Building, Legion Field, the lights on Rickwood Field, the Heaviest Corner on Earth, our airport, and our artificial river running through the city, the railroad lines. A view to the south allows one to see the rolling hills off in the distance. This weekend it may also provide some minor glimpses of one of our own historic hometown music festivals, the Southern Heritage Festival. Click here for a brief history of the festival. Area newspapers will hopefully have a listing providing a line up of the festival this morning.

Upcoming post will include looks at area parks, things to do in the area, and some of the mindsets of the citizenry. Hopefully if I don’t bore you to death, it should be a lot of fun.

Both cities boast opportunities to keep their residents and visitors busy and entertained. Chicago is a much denser city and as a result, provides some things that we do not. Selling our city short on activities would be wrong. We’ll take a closer look at these offerings over the weekend.


If anyone’s got comments, I’m all ears.

Published inArchitectureB'ham WikiCitiesmusic venuesother citiesPhotographs