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CHICAGO

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CHICAGO
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One of the biggest and nicest city in the world

On a cold, brutally windy day in Chicago, when the temperature's sub-zero and strong gusts keep you from walking down the street, the first question that will come to mind is, 'Who the hell decided to build a city and settle here?' Well, nearly three million hardy souls now call this great city home, and they can thank the mettle and vision of their Irish, Italian, German, Polish, Mexican and Asian immigrant forebears and the folks that migrated here from the southern US for creating it. This diverse mix has built a city with an unrivaled tradition of jazz and blues, an astonishing architecture, an appetite for hearty food, award-winning newspapers, universities full of Nobel laureates and some of the most die-hard sports fans you'll ever meet.

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Population: 2.75 million
Area: 230 sq mi (600 sq km)
Elevation: 580ft (175m)
State: Illinois
Time Zone: Central Time (GMT/UTC minus 6 hours)
Telephone area codes: 312 inside the Loop; 773 outside

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July and August can get really hot in Chicago, with temperatures from 80-90F (27-32C) and high humidity. This is also the peak of the festival season, with major events taking place in the parks and neighborhoods every weekend. September is blessed with reliably warm days and is probably the most pleasant month of the year, weather-wise, but there's less going on during this period.

The week after Christmas is when Chicago is least busy and hotels and airfares are usually at their cheapest. But it can be damp and cold - between 12F and 29F (-11C and -2C) if you're lucky - or snowy for days on end. Temperatures and brisk winds will guarantee that you'll spend most of this period indoors

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HISTORY OF CHICAGO

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The best way to get around Chicago is by foot. It's flat, easy to navigate and the nicest way to get the flavor of the city. This is one of the few American cities you can fully enjoy without a car. When your feet need a break, public transit is not bad by American standards. The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) is the public transportation system serving the city. It consists of the El and buses.

Most visitors should be able to use the El for almost all their transit needs, the exception being those going to Hyde Park, certain areas of Lincoln Park near the lake and the area east of North Michigan Avenue that includes Navy Pier. CTA buses go almost everywhere, but they do so on erratic schedules. A web of commuter trains running under the Metra banner serve the suburbs surrounding Chicago.

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In 1933, Ed Kelly became mayor. He strengthened the Democratic Party in the city, creating the legendary 'machine' that would control local politics for the next 50 years. Politicians doled out thousands of city jobs to people who worked hard to make sure their patrons were reelected. The zenith of the machine's power began with the election of Richard J Daley in 1955. Daley was reelected mayor five times before dying in office in 1976. With an uncanny understanding of machine politics, he dominated the city in a way no mayor had before or since.

In 1971, the last of the Chicago stockyards closed. Elsewhere in the city, factories and steel mills closed as companies moved to the suburbs or the southern US, where taxes and wages were lower. A decade of economic upheaval saw much of Chicago's industrial base erode. But two events happened in the 1970s that were harbingers of the city's future. The world's tallest building (at the time), the Sears Tower, opened in the Loop in 1974, beginning a development trend that would spur the creation of thousands of high-paying jobs in finance, law and other areas. And in 1975 the Water Tower Place shopping mall opened downtown and developers began to realize that the urban environment was an attraction in itself.

In the fall of 1982, a Who's Who of black Chicago gathered to propel Harold Washington, Chicago's first African American mayor - and a reformist, to boot - into office. Much of the political and social chaos that marked the years from 1983 to 1987 had ugly racial overtones, but at the heart of the conflict was the old guard refusing to cede any power or patronage to the reform-minded mayor. The irony is that when Washington died, seven months after he was reelected in 1987, he and his allies were just beginning to enjoy the same spoils of the machine they had once battled.

In 1989, Chicago elected as mayor Richard M Daley, the son of Richard J Daley. Like his father, Daley has an uncanny instinct for city politics. Unlike his father, he has shown much more political savvy in uniting disparate political forces. Daley has moved to solidify his control of the city in a way his father would have applauded, but in a much more enlightened manner. The parks are much cleaner and safer, and the schools - recently the worst in the nation - are showing signs of marked improvement. A new generation of professionals is discovering the joys of urban living, among them Chicago's vibrant cultural and social scene. Billions of dollars in private investment have flowed to neighborhoods, and the city's diversified economic base enabled it to weather the recession of the early 1990s better than others in the US.

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