As I walk around my neighborhood looking at all the high-rises, it surprises me how few people are out on their balconies, even on beautiful weekends. The balconies look like places for grills, not for humans.
My balcony is my sanctuary. It’s not exaggerating to say that a little more than 60 square feet of private outdoor space has transformed my life. If I’m too busy for a few days to get out there, I miss it. It doesn’t matter that the balcony is smaller than a yard or a deck; I don’t need a lot of space to sit in a comfortable chair and breathe the fresh air.
My main disappointment with my previous condo was that it didn’t have a balcony. The lack of central air, a parking place, and an in-unit washer and dryer was annoying but bearable. The lack of private outdoor space was lamentable.
Our 13-unit vintage building did have access to an empty lot next door, which I used often but not always comfortably. I felt on display, and if I wasn’t in the mood for chatting, too bad if a neighbor walked by.
So, when I was looking around for a condo downtown, a balcony was the number one requirement. I got a bigger balcony than expected with a 900-square-foot condo. It’s about 16 x 4, large enough for planters and a small table and a reclining chair in which I laze for hours, going inside occasionally to refill the glass of iced tea. Others might not be happy with a balcony’s getting little sun — only 2½ hours a day — but not me. Shade is good for my skin if not for growing vegetables.
I consider my balcony perfectly situated even though it is on a low floor, the ninth, and doesn’t have views of the lake or downtown. Facing south over the building’s sixth-floor rooftop swimming pool, the balcony is never going to have a high-rise go up in its face — which is happening to the north side of the building. It’s quieter than balconies that hang over the street.
Being above the swimming pool gives me a feeling of being grounded, only three floors up instead of the actual nine. I don’t think I’d want too much higher because of queasiness and the wind factor. Most of the time, it’s not too windy to read the newspaper, but if the wind picks up, I switch to a book or a magazine.
My balcony feels more concealed than it really is. Sinking into the recliner and with the railing planters in front of me, I feel out of sight even if the poolside is crowded.
When I grow tired of lounging, I enjoy a new interest that the balcony has enabled, container gardening. Ten planters hold annuals and perennials that I water, prune, or just admire. More planters could be accommodated. The railing planters are lush for the first year, with coleus, sweet potato vine, and spearmint spilling over. On the balcony floor, the four perennial pots are doing passably, the vegetables in the EarthBox less well — but that’s okay, I’ve learned what to do differently next year.
Others in the building seem to prefer to sit around the swimming pool, but a pool serves different needs than a balcony — to cool off in the water, to sunbathe, to socialize, to show off a fit body. I’ve been in the pool only twice this summer. Even when it’s empty on a weekday, it doesn’t entice me to leave the balcony.
People who don’t use their balconies can’t be away from home all the time, so they must be sitting indoors, maybe in air-conditioning. I don’t understand it; I feel bad about squandering a beautiful day indoors. A lovely summer like we’ve had is a gift in these parts. Too soon I’ll have to look at my balcony from inside and pine for the arrival of spring. But even then the balcony will give me pleasure as I plan what to plant when June arrives.
TAKE A FREE TOUR OF CHICAGO
The Chicago Greeter Program, to which I volunteer, will be offering free tours to Chicagoans as well as out-of-town visitors on Saturday. (Normally we give tours only to out-of-towners.) From our more than 40 tours, these will be available: Chinatown (including a free round-trip watertaxi ride), the 606, the River Walk, the Loop and Millennium Park, Pilsen, and the Gold Coast. Come to Chase Promenade in Millennium Park at 10, 11, noon, 1, or 2 Saturday to meet up with a Chicago Greeter who will take you on your chosen tour. Say hello to me if you’re there just before 2, when I’ll be taking out a group for a tour of the Loop.