The Metropolitan Planning Council, a Chicagoland policy advocate, has just concluded a competition for relatively unknown, high-quality places in the region (I happen to be on the jury). You can see a brief news report from WGN TV on the winners through the link, below.
What was common among the winners (the Millennium Carillon in Naperville and Glenwood Avenue, the Experimental Station, and Jackson Park's Japanese Garden in Chicago) was an almost ineffable sense of specialness. Otherwise, the four locations are quite different. Two (the carillon and the garden) are highly designed, while Glenwood Avenue is a combination of small-scale commerce and street life. The Experimental Station a highly successful, multi-faceted non profit community "catalyst".