Posts Tagged ‘public space’

Freezing the Chicago River for a month-long frost fair

In Excerpts, Thoughts on April 25, 2011 at 2:00 pm

Pruned, a blog I’ve recently stumbled upon, began a series last June called “(Im)possible Chicago.” Each is essentially an alternate version of the Windy City, the collection “a series of hallucinatory joyrides through one hundred and twenty five asynchronous Chicagos,” as blog author Alexander Trevi puts it.

Most move a little too quickly to truly compel. They feel like the creative writing exercises of a college sophomore—too neatly odd, too contained by one new idea. All plot and no character development.

But I liked one: (Im)possible Chicago #3: Forever Open, Free & Clear v2.0. Trevi writes:

“Over a century since retail magnate A. Montgomery Ward sounded the battle cry to defend the city’s mandate to keep its lakefront a public common that is “forever open, clear and free of any buildings, or other obstructions whatever,” a similar call to arms was made for the Chicago River, to make it forever free of industries, private developments and sewage.

… Not every building was cleared away, but at least now one can stroll the entire length of the river. In fact, starting at any point, you can walk or bike or jog uninterrupted on both banks. … Along the way, you might encounter kayaking parties setting off from mini-harbors, anglers, community theaters staging avant-garde interpretations of The Odyssey, and triathletes in training. … Every four years, the entire river is artificially frozen for a monthlong frost fair.”

It was the last image I enjoyed most. Growing up in rural Kansas, near a creek that did often freeze over, I can imagine the joy and awe Chicagoans would have if their river were completely frozen over, able to be crossed, played on, skated down—from a family’s home in Ravenswood all the way to State Street.

It wouldn’t be inconceivable. We dye it green once a year. We can freeze it every four.

Urban crowd-sourcing, bucket-listing in New Orleans

In Thoughts on April 10, 2011 at 10:08 am

This might be the best plan for blighted neighborhoods I’ve heard yet, mainly because it can be implemented by anyone, it can happen fairly instantly, it engages the community, and it avoids any zoning / reinvestment / ownership issues.

Step 1. Take an abandoned building in a prominent location, one that gets a lot of foot traffic.

Step 2. Cover it in chalkboards or chalkboard paint.

Step 3. Pose a question or fill-in-the-blank, like the one above.

Step 4. Leave chalk.

This is precisely what artist and designer Candy Chang did in New Orleans.



Once the wall has been filled, she washes the board with water and starts all over again.

Even though they disappear, as all street art does, Chang is collecting the responses for a book she wants to put together, a catalog of New Orleans dreams, written on its buildings and abandoned homes.

On the fence, under the El

In Excerpts, Thoughts on March 16, 2011 at 9:38 am

Blair Kamin on a proposal for Lakeview, the Chicago neighborhood, revealed last Tuesday:

“You’ve undoubtedly heard of the High Line, the much-praised Manhattan public space built atop a dormant elevated line. Well, Chicago is thinking about a low line, a pedestrian path that would be built beneath the CTA’s Brown Line elevated tracks between Southport and Paulina Avenues. It would have native landscaping and would aim to connect the Southport and Lincoln Avenue business districts.”

At first, I thought it was interesting that anyone would think that a ground-level pathway, no matter how well designed, could be as attractive as walking through Manhattan’s West Side 30 feet off the ground—the former is something Chicagoans experience on a semi-regular basis; the latter is a totally new pedestrian experience. Plus, the Brown Line isn’t an abandoned track; the roar of the train will frighten away people looking to escape the abrasive, everyday sights and sounds of the city.

But I do enjoy the tunnel-like shape created by the tracks, a highly iconic element of Chicago’s built environment. And reading more about the project on a WBEZ blog, I like the ideas of dedicated bike lines and permanent space for farmers markets, as well as the long-term plan to encourage businesses to locate closer to public transportation.

And then I stumbled upon the blog of one of the architecture firms actually doing the design work. It turns out they weren’t imagining some bucolic leisure park. They simply saw an opportunity to connect two areas of the city in a fresh and innovative way:

“While out on a photo shoot in November we had to get from the Southport Brown line station to the Paulina station on foot.  Instead of walking down to the next street we walked under the El tracks, and only after that did it occur to us that this is space we [could] use.”

Continuing, they highlight the fact that despite its placement beneath the El tracks, the walkway would be a pleasant alternative to they typical grid of sidewalk routes—a shortcut of sorts offering new vantage points.

“The proposed path would connect the once dissociated shopping streets of Lincoln and Southport Avenues, while increasing available open space to residents…and above all, [be] a space for the local community to interact away from traffic.”

Whether people would truly “interact” here, I have my doubts. But in reality, the use of public space is an end in itself, as it represents a public interacting with its city, which is the beginning of people interacting with other people. My friend Phil can talk about such interactions all day.

I do have to say, after reading about people textures, I can’t look at architectural renderings the same way. Note the butterfly and the bright colors and the basic lack of grit or grime. It’s understandable; renderings are essentially advertisements. But it’s still fantastical enough to be disconcerting in an odd way.

Time will tell the future of the potential path through Lakeview. If you live in the area or are interested in this, you can go here to subscribe to updates or lend your voice to the discussion. Also feel free to lend your thoughts here.

Threats to a magnificent seven

In Excerpts on March 4, 2011 at 11:10 am

“Every year, Preservation Chicago announces its “Chicago’s 7″ list of Most Endangered Buildings. The purpose of the Chicago 7 is to raise public awareness about the threats facing some of Chicago’s most at-risk architectural treasures, whether they are a single building, an entire neighborhood, or a thematic category of buildings, such as Great Chicago Warehouses or Chicago’s Religious Structures.”

The list.

Kamin on Cairo

In Excerpts on February 11, 2011 at 3:56 pm

Been busy working on a piece for ALARM, so I’ll just throw this up.

Teaser: “The point, made with tremendous force by today’s events in Egypt, is this: The Web doesn’t supplant the public square; it pushes people to it.”