Archive for the ‘Chicago’ Tag

Chicago Fail

I’m toying with the idea of turning this blog into specifically my thoughts on and first stabs at forming opinions on issues of urban planning – or I might just pollute the ‘net with another blog.  In any case, I thought this worth sharing:

I attended a couple lectures as part of the Chicago Humanities Festival which honored and discussed the 100th anniversary of the Burnham Plan of Chicago, the document by Daniel Burnham and others which laid out not only the physical plan of the city, but the principles behind which Chicago has developed over the past century.  Looking at the plan and a map of downtown Chicago currently, it’s interesting to see what has and has not come into being, but I think the most entertaining and tragic deviation is as follows.

In the Plan, Burnham envisioned a variety of public spaces which celebrated civic life, including museums, lakefront park space, etc.   The centerpiece west of the Loop would be a “center for civic, intellectual, and cultural life” accessible via a wide boulevard called Congress Parkway, and from which diagonal streets like Ogden would lead outward into the rest of the city. Illustrated below:

An illustration of the city according to the plan

An illustration of the city according to the plan

Here is the city now, with some labels, for reference – courtesy of Google Maps.

Downtown Chicago as it looks today (Google Maps)

Downtown Chicago as it looks today (Google Maps)

So, obviously we never got that civic center, although we did get some cool museums in the mix.  What we actually got was – in pretty much exactly that spot – a big circle of highway intersections, the interchange among 90/94 and 290 (with 55 somewhere close by).  I think that pretty much qualifies as an epic fail.

Highway interchange, and epic fail

Highway interchange, and epic fail

I think that says volumes about how much cars have polluted our cities and generally our quality of life.  This was the conclusion I came to while listening to the talk, although they only talked a little about transport in particular.  So here’s a way to think about it:  cars themselves, and not merely their emissions, are polluting our cities.


On Remembering the Dead

A friend and I were out in Scoville Park this afternoon, sitting in the sun on the First World War memorial in the middle of the hill.  For a while we sat on the bronze plaques of the names themselves (eventually feeling this was probably not the most respectful thing we’ve ever done, and moving), then mused a while on memorials, on memory, and other topics somewhat ill-fitted to the first warm spring weekend of the year.

The Tribune’s headline for today was tragedy in a similar vein, not of a foreign war but of teen violence in our city, specifically in Chicago Public Schools.  In this century it seems no longer appropriate to erect granite obelisks and idealized bronze figures to the dead, but who’s to say what is?  “Honor rolls” of the fallen?  Makeshift shrines with plastic flowers and snapshots of childhood?  A running tally in the corner of CNN’s Headline ticker?

Number of Chicago P.S. students killed so far this school year:  22

Number of US soldiers lost in Iraq so far (confirmed):  4013

Number of Iraqi civilians lost so far (estimated):  82,682-90,207

On Infrastructure

I could say a lot of things about Chicago here, but I’ll just leave you with this little postcard I made.

Chicago Infrastructure Postcard

On Favorite Views of Chicago

On the way home tonight, I started thinking about my favorite places in Chicago, going strictly by quality or prettiness of view. I came up with what is, I think, a respectable and diverse Top 5, which is also a bit of a nod to the usual format of a friend’s blog. They are as follows, more or less in order:

5. Chicago River and Sun-Times Building, via the Green Line. Generally speaking, the Green Line is a fun little ride, provided you don’t wait too long for it, and I’m particularly fond of the part where you cross the river, between Clinton and Clark & Lake. Looking through the north windows (left if you’re going into the city, right if you’re leaving it) is the best view, not only of more water but also the Sun-Times building and the other skyscrapers along Water St. Also, bonus: since there aren’t visible railings on the outer edges of either side of the track, you get that feeling that if the train lurched any more, it might fall in. Best at night, second-best on a sunny day, third-best on a really foggy one.

4. View of the West Loop from the Platform Bridge at Ashland Station (Green/Pink Line). My most recent discovery was this unexpected and lovely view of the entire west skyline, from the proximity and height of the bridge connecting the inbound and outbound platforms at Ashland. Since it is the last station on the line (heading east) that has such a connecting bridge, and since everything before the skyscrapers is pretty much no more than three stories high, the view is pretty much unobstructed all the way down the tracks. And everything from the Hancock to the Sears Tower is there. Worth stepping off the El for a few minutes to check out. Best on a clear night.

3. Millennium Park. While this isn’t a “view” per se, pretty much everything you can see there is pretty awesome. From the big amphitheatre to the occasionally-changing art installations above the wading pool, from the Bean to the giant bizarre face-and-color pillars that randomly spit water, it really is a fun place to be. Plus, being just east of Michigan Avenue, standing in the park affords nice views of the surrounding streets, particularly the diamond-topped Smurfit-Stone building that can become deadly in the winter with falling ice. Not the best move architecturally, but at least in the park it can’t fall on you. Best any time of day and year.

2. Promontory Point, Hyde Park. Generally speaking, Hyde Park is a great place to spend time in (provided it’s not the dead of winter, and you’re not a stressed-out student). But my particular favorite, though relatively late discovery, is Promontory Point, the bit of park east of Lakeshore Drive that juts out into the lake, with a concrete buffer to the north and the 57th Street Beach to the south. The charming yet crumbling wall of concrete and stone blocks that lines the small park provide a nice series of stepping stones, benches, and overall character set against the shallow water, and many people like to climb in to wade or paddle around (haven’t done it personally; looks fun, especially if you don’t like sandy beaches). There is a path around the grassy area as well, a short deviation from the larger bike path that runs from the south side up to Rogers Park, as well as a small lighthouse (usually unoccupied) and several “discussion circles,” a stone circle bench surrounding a fire pit for barbecues. The views from the Point are particularly great on a clear day, as you can see not only as far south as the south shore and the Indiana border, but out to the water intake cribs just east of the city, and (best of all) right up north to the downtown skyline. Bonus: lots of dogs, and the occasional fire engine. Best viewed whenever the waves aren’t dangerously high; my favorite times are summer and autumn afternoons.


1. Driving North on Lakeshore Drive, from Hyde Park to the Loop. Perhaps it’s a bit cliche (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off always comes to my mind) but I do love driving along the lake, particularly the stretch between the near South Side and perhaps as far north as the northern edge of Millennium Park (unless it changes names east of Michigan Ave., I mean Randolph). Particularly because of the L-shaped layout of the buildings along that corridor, and whatever people want to say about how cool the north side is, the city skyline really presents itself best from this view. Going south along LSD, past Lincoln Park and the Gold Coast, is nice and all, but you really only get the back view, and the nonsense at Navy Pier can’t compete with that famous skyline. Driving on Lakeshore Drive is certainly stressful, but I firmly believe this stretch of LSD significantly increases the driver’s (and any passenger’s) coolness, if only for those view miles. Definitely best viewed on a clear night, although early morning at sunrise, and a sunny summer day, are tied for second.

My one runner-up would have to be that small stretch of Congress Parkway, heading west, before it turns into 290 – not only do you pass by the interesting and somewhat flamboyantly-roofed Washington Library, but passing under the Board of Trade and then over the river is last bit of fun before the horror that is the Eisenhower.

Also, a final note: screw Navy Pier and the Magnificent Mile.