Over the weekend, I had my first opportunity to visit “Taste of Chicago,” a 10-day annual event held in Grant Park. The basic formula is simple: a few (very few) rides for the kids, street performers for the adults, several scheduled concerts and lots and lots of food.
The big attraction is the food. It’s served out of multi-colored tents lined up back to back down the main north-south road through the park and along two intersecting streets. Tickets get you food — 11 tickets for $7. Every booth is required to choose one item to be sold as a “taste” for three tickets, but they also offer larger portions.
Having produced and attended many Memphis outdoor events over the years, I took note of the many differences in “Taste of Chicago.” First, the place was so clean. (Remember, the point of this event is food, and food produces a lot of trash.) There were trash containers everywhere. Second, “Taste” encourages recycling by providing a recycling bin for plastic drink bottles next to many of the trash containers. Third, the park site offers a mix of hardscape and softscape, which means the park is left undamaged. The park also offers a mix of sun and shade — thick, extended shade. Fourth, guests are invited to bring their chairs, even walk in with drinks. Nobody checks your backpack at the door. In fact, there is no one checking anything at the door because, fifth, “Taste” is free. And finally, “Taste” attracts an incredible mix of people — many ages, ethnicities, groupings are in evidence.
Seems there is much for Memphis to learn from “Taste of Chicago.”
The same night, I also attended Summerdance, also in Grant Park. Wednesday through Sunday all summer long, free one-hour dance lessons are provided to willing students followed by two hours of dancing to live bands (except Wednesday which are reserved for the hottest DJs). Again, the mix of people who showed up for dance lessons was surprising and impressive. The evening’s lesson was devoted to Salsa and Mambo. Tonight is West Coast Swing.
You may pay more to live in Chicago, but the rewards of citizenship seem worth it.