Author: Haokun Fu

Program of Study: Master of Arts Program in the Social Sciences (MAPSS), Division of the Social Sciences (SSD)

This article is a discussion of the possible resonance of the three objects in the title.

Old Town exists on a spatial level of physics. It is a relatively inconspicuous presence in downtown Chicago: The top thirty recommended attractions in “Top Attractions in Chicago Recommended on Tripadvisor (2023)” surround this area, but none of them are within it. This means that as a traveler staying in Chicago for no more than four days, you’d be unlikely to make a special trip to visit this area. It’s more like a place that most people pass by but don’t make a special visit. But as will be discussed below, such hiddenness opens up more possibilities, especially for the possibility of becoming.

Carmy Berzatto exists on the spatial level of the imagination. Carmy Berzatto is the primary character in the popular American television show “The Bear” (2022-). The show uniquely incorporates the contextual factors of Chicago into its content rather than just using the city as a setting. Furthermore, the main venue for the series, Mr. Beef Sandwich Restaurant (Figure 1), is located in Old Town. As we will discuss below, it is almost inevitable that such a story would take place on this street, just like the soil and the fruits it yields.

Figure 1: Mr. Beef Sandwich Restaurant. (Source: Google Maps, 2023)

ME” is a subjective perspective that stems from the level of subjective consciousness. In this paper, “ME” represents not only the author’s perspective but also the subjective experiences of other graduate students recently arrived in Chicago with whom the author has communicated. Therefore, this essay aims to use abstract descriptions, to unfold the likelihood that readers would bring their own perspectives to the article.

The resonance of these three objects will be chained together by the theory of “Becoming” developed by the French philosopher Deleuze. In several of his works, Deleuze (1980; 1994) criticizes classical and modern philosophies for their obsession with “Being”, which involves the desire to philosophize towards a definite conclusion about “a being A”, thus gaining more control over the uncertainty in the past. In the present, however, as certainty and human interactions increase, “Being” has become a restrictive concept that excludes many potentialities. More radically, Deleuze argues that a thing becomes dead at the moment of certainty, as if a wave in the ocean. Deleuze advocates a state of “Becoming”, suspending the dominant connotations of the object and constantly rethinking its new possibilities. In other words, it consistently seeks the weaker side of the entity, allowing for the emergence of a new form. Such a flux of ontological movement is what Deleuze calls “life”. In the following paragraphs, the ongoing discussion of the “Being” and “Becoming” of each object will facilitate the authors’ arguments.

In the end, Chicago’s diverse, fluid, and dialectical nature sets the stage for the three objects and their respective situations. As Antonio (2023), the host of the Chicago Architecture River Cruise, explains: when the boat passes over the old bridges, the buildings and the history of the city are gradually revealed, like the curtain rising on a stage. (Figure 2)

Figure 2: Boat passing under bridge. (Source:

Act I – Physical Space

Old Town: A Neighborhood That Didn’t Burn Out

The authors’ exploration of this neighborhood begins with its name: Why is it called “Old Town”? According to Gill (1967), the residents who could hear the bells of St. Michael’s Church at the time were the Old Towners. From the distant past to the present day, it seems that the old bell of St. Michael’s Church continues to ring. Located on the edge of the city before the Great Chicago Fire, this church is one of the few buildings to survive with some remnants after the catastrophe. According to the Chicago Historical Society & Northwestern University (2011), one wall of the church survived from the fire. (Figure 3) Based on this tough wall and the spiritual connection between the church and the residents, restoration efforts began two weeks after the fire. The project was completed two years later, following earlier restoration efforts in the surrounding area. (St. Michael’s Church in Old Town, 2023)

Figure 3: One wall of the church survived from the fire.

Such a seemingly good thing, in the author’s speculation, had a dramatically negative effect. As many modernist architects began to build in Chicago’s burned-out neighborhoods, the Old Town area seemed to be ignored by most architects. This trend is clearly visible on today’s city maps and in some ways explains the hidden nature of the Old Town to tourists mentioned. From an architectural perspective, the southern side of Old Town is a central business district (CBD) area filled with towering modernist buildings and countless prominent attractions, known as the LOOP; the northern and eastern parts of the city comprise residential neighborhoods, with notable high-end residential areas as Lincoln Park and Astor Street. Surrounded by these neighborhoods, the Old Town appears inconspicuous. (Figure 4) From an urban morphology perspective, in contrast to the typically straight blocks of the rebuilt city,  Old Town area has a very sinuous and asymmetrical block layout that is incompatible with the overall fabric of the city.  (Figure 5)  Clearly, the Old Town seems not favored by modernist architects and planners, and the reason behind could be reasonably surmised: the area is not clean enough. Located on the fringes of the Old City, the area is neither a brand new vacant lot, nor was it burned clean enough in the fire. These factors prevented the area from becoming a brand new arena for these architects.

Figure 4: Different Style:Loop, Old Town & Lincoln Park.
(Produced by the author: Original images from Choose Chicago 2023)


Figure 5: Different Urban Morphology: Map, Historical View & Current View.
(Produced by the author: Original Map from Google Maps, Google Street View & )

Currently, however, the beneficial aspects of it are dramatically reemerging. Starting from the 1960s, with Jane Jacobs’s (1961) sharp critique of the American cities, people began to criticize the coldness and one-sided utility of the modernist cities and began to focus on the role of cities in enhancing human experience and social interaction. Located in a city like Chicago, which Jacobs would use as a prime example of criticism, Old Town has conversely become one of the most vibrant areas in the entire city. Located between work and home, this place naturally sprouts appropriate features for the activities that people will do after work and before returning home. It is easy to observe that the abundance of local restaurants, bars, and boutiques provides the ground for a wide range of activities such as The Second City. (Figure 6)  From the perspective of Jacobs and many other community builders, such diverse and indigenous spaces offer more opportunities for engagement and community production.

Figure 6: The Second City. (Source:

Overall, Old Town has demonstrated unique qualities that differentiate it from other Chicago neighborhoods in the century since the Great Fire, and those qualities seem to be embedded in its name. Although this traditionalism once caused the area to fail to keep pace with the urban rebirth of the modernist movement, it has embraced a new rebirth in the contemporary era. Compared to the typical Chicago block around it, Old Town possesses a stronger capacity for “Becoming” and generates differences in the present. Given its vitality through a Deleuzian lens, it’s not unreasonable to define this area as the most representative area of Chicago presently.

Act II – Imagination Space

Carmy Berzatto: A Story That Doesn’t Just Happen in Chicago

“The Bear” is a show that not only happens in Chicago, but it embodies Chicago’s spirit. In the episode, the main character, Carmy Berzatto (Figure 7), is a brilliant and well-known Michelin chef, who due to his brother’s suicide, inherits a small neighborhood sandwich shop, which happens to be located in the Old Town area. Though the action in the episode doesn’t actually take place within the space, I’m still inclined to see it as something that takes place in the imagined space of Old Town. And naturally, I consider my observations of the action to be part of my research into the imagined space of the place.

Figure 7: Carmy Berzatto. (Source:

Just as the Old Town area could neither be a blank slate nor a completely burned-out place, Carmy Berzatto’s life and values did not allow him to let it deteriorate or sell it, as normal people might do. He can only choose the “third way”, which is to run the community restaurant as a Michelin Chef, and this becomes the main tension of the episode. Carmy realizes that the rules of Michelin restaurants, which he thought to be the highest standards in the industry, are not applicable to the community. He faces various issues, including: confusion over the community’s taste preferences, difficulties in navigating health inspections, safety emergencies, and more. As he tackles these issues piece by piece, we see a new dynamic emerge from this fusion, and ultimately the success of this restaurant as a “unique” and “community” restaurant.

The “success” imagined and portrayed by the show’s creator can be defined as a “Chicago-style” success, or even further, an “Old Town-style” success, which resists any form of “Being”. It does not apply a top-down definition of “success criteria”, nor is it assimilated into the community’s locality. This success is the result of a search for a fusion between things that have collided and confronted, eventually leading to an emergence of a new possibility of  “Becoming”. As Chicago-based writer Nicholas Cannariato (2023) commented, “The Bear” captures the essence of the city, which could be defined as the “Geography of Ambition”. Such ambition aims at creating great and original works, not gaining status or acclaim. As such, it is appropriate to state that the story doesn’t fit in the Loop or Linkin Park, but can only be discovered in Old Town, which shares the same mode of “Becoming” as such places.

Act III – Consciousness Space

ME:  A Rabbit Hole Towards the Urban Spirituality of Chicago

In this final section, I would like to connect the two sides of this essay, the author and the reader, or to unitedly rephrase, the new citizens of this city. As a recent arrival in Chicago, I have perceived a resonance between the spiritual attributes of the place and the embodied experiences that originate in the body as I read about the place and the associated visual imagery. Furthermore, in talking with many other new citizens, my classmates, I found similar experiences being discussed. This inspired me to abstract the author’s and reader’s perspectives into a unified new citizen’s perspective, “ME,” and attempt to discuss it in the same theoretical framework of the article.

From such a “me” perspective, I came to this city with a specific intention, feeling the diversity and inclusiveness of the city, but also experiencing the difficulties of adapting to the local culture, including: learning the processes of opening a bank account and getting a phone card; being afraid to go out alone at night, despite being constantly told that Hyde Park is quite safe; reconfiguring and adapting to everything from grocery shopping, cooking, and exercising. There are moments when the thought “I wish this university was on my familiar turf” arises, and other moments when the opportunity to rethink oneself in relation to the novelty of one’s experience is relished. These experiences, in the framework of the themes discussed in this paper, can be interpreted as leaving the certainty of “Being” and embracing the stage of “Becoming”.

In the current era of widespread anxiety among younger generations, the author observes a predominantly negative attitude towards life. In the author’s country, for instance, many young people hesitate between three options: rat racing, lying flat, and running away. The author notes a passive search for certainty embedded in all these alternatives. That is: to conform blindly to the rules; to reject regulations by doing nothing; or to escape from the existing rules by entering another realm. In today’s world, it could be challenging but essential to actively question existing certainties and embrace new possibilities, and this opportunity may open up to new citizens. As stated by Agamben (2008), contemporaneity reflects a distinctive relationship between people and their own era. It introduces a necessary heterogeneity into the era, attaching itself to it through dislocation from it. Perhaps, the vitality of this dislocation lies in the winding alleys of Old Town, like the stacks of money that Carmy Berzatto discovers in the most rustic jar of ketchup at the climax of “The Bear”.(Figure 8) If the Loop serves as the gateway for tourists to explore the city, and if Lincoln Park is the ideal residence for Chicago’s senior citizens, then Old Town, in the midst, could serve as the rabbit hole into the spirit of contemporary Chicago, only for new citizens to tap into.

Figure 8: Money inside the jars. (Source:

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