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As the hub of the Midwest, Chicago is easy to find — its picturesque skyline calls across the waters of Lake Michigan, a first impression that soon reveals world-class museums of art and science, miles of sandy beaches, huge parks and public art, and perhaps the finest downtown collection of modern architecture in the world.

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Chicago was known as a fine place to find a wild onion if you were a member of the Potawatomi tribe, who lived in this area of Illinois before European settlers arrived.

It was mostly swamps, prairie and mud long past the establishment of Fort Dearborn in 1803 and incorporation as a town in 1833.

It could be argued that nature never intended for there to be a city here; brutal winters aside, it took civil engineering projects of unprecedented scale to establish working sewers, reverse the flow of the river to keep it out of the city's drinking supply, and stop buildings from sinking back into the swamps — and that was just the first few decades.

Chicago is the home of the blues and the truth of jazz, the heart of comedy and the idea of the skyscraper.

Here, the age of railroads found its center, and airplanes followed suit.

Butcher of hogs and believer in progress, it is one of the world's great cities, and yet the metropolitan luxuries of theater, shopping, and fine dining have barely put a dent in real Midwestern friendliness.

It's a city with a swagger, but without the surliness or even the fake smiles found in other cities of its size.

Chicagoans split their city into large "sides" to the north, west, and south of the central business district (the Loop).

Chicagoans also tend to identify strongly with their neighborhood, reflecting real differences in culture and place throughout the city.

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