I’ve always been a city kid. Growing up in Chicago meant I was met with chaos, adventure and an atmosphere of constant hustle and bustle every time I stepped out the door. Upon starting college, I discovered the hardship of moving away from the only city I had ever known. Though Ann Arbor has come to feel like home, the nostalgia that comes with the passage of time has made it occasionally easy to miss Chicago.
Fall Break provided me with the perfect opportunity to explore that very nostalgia. I went back through countless old photo albums filled with memories from years past and revisited the places that were once such a large part of my life. To my surprise, not much had changed.
With the passage of time comes great change, so of course, many of my fondest memories of the city now only exist in my head. Though the addition of a fence to the easternmost side of Sheridan Road may not strike many as a significant change, it curtailed the freedom I once felt being able to weave freely between the trees that line the road.
The excitement of taking the “L” train was a highlight of my childhood in Chicago, but even my most frequented train stop fell victim to the winds of change. What was once a warm, homey center of transportation to and from my neighborhood has been transformed into a cold, quiet and lifeless place. From wooden planks to concrete platforms, the Morse stop on the Red Line is now just another industrial implementation. The same sounds of my younger sister’s feet thumping on the wooden platform as she chased me around while waiting for a train were nowhere to be found.
Chicago’s northside neighborhood of Rogers Park, a neighborhood I called home for the first 12 years of my life, is no stranger to visual change. But the place that I spent the most time as a child has for the most part stayed the same. The path down Morse Avenue to the local lakefront park is still lined with the same concrete ledge I used to use as a balance beam, and the pier at Loyola Beach still stands strong as a marker of the coastline.
Reminiscing on the countless walks, fun-filled bike, scooter and wagon rides and games of red-light-green-light that took place in this alley sums up what being a city kid means to me. Growing up, the alley system served as a labyrinth of exploration through neighborhoods all across Chicago. To the eye, both then and now, the alley behind the condo I grew up in is not much more than a hideaway for dumpsters and a path to parking lots. But, the feeling I got as soon as I turned the corner made it feel like nothing had changed (give or take the new speed bumps and dumpsters).
Going back to the very places where I fell in love with Chicago made me realize that even something so seemingly irrelevant as an alley has changed the way I view life. I now strive to take the path less traveled. Venturing through alleys and cutting through side streets in the hope of finding a new perspective is a way of life that I’ve carried with me all the way to college..
Obviously, things have changed a lot in the last decade and a half. Instead of freely wandering around the city, my free time got taken up by school, sports and college preparation. I was no longer the giddy 3-year-old who thought Chicago was larger than life. The places I used to frequent got added to a mental list of tourist destinations to avoid in the city. And avoid them I did. The magic I once saw in Millennium Park’s most popular attraction, The Bean, faded. The whimsy of Navy Pier’s vibrant rides faded from grandiose to garish.
A return to Navy Pier after years of steering clear from it allowed many bittersweet moments to emerge within me. The fence that once boosted my 1-year-old self high enough to peer over the plants and see what I saw at the time as an awe-inspiring, magical carousel towering over me now serves as a barrier to an underwhelming carnival ride. Something that was once the object of my undivided attention demanded little of it upon my return. Its paint had faded, the cobblestone road surrounding it was turned to solid cement and the sounds of children giggling and classic carnival music were nowhere to be found.
Navy Pier was one area of the city that fell victim to modernity. Its bright colors and playful, winding paths offered a place of brightness in the city. The classic red arches and flags that once filled the pier have since been removed, leaving an empty, minimalist atmosphere that comes nowhere close to matching the exuberance of what it used to be. Navy Pier no longer stands out as a contrast to the skyline that stands over it — it now blends into its skyscraper-rich background, leaving much to be desired.
Despite all the change, there is still some semblance of the wonder that filled my younger self when exploring the city. Whether the presence of that same wonder is aided by the nostalgia looking back at old photos or because it simply lives on in my memory, the fact that the magical atmosphere of Chicago can, for the most part, hold true 15 years later speaks to its impact on who I am today.
Staff Photographer Anna Fuder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.