Today's Chicago Tribune lays out a cautionary tale about Cityfront Center, a downtown Chicago development that hasn't lived up to its developer's promises:
The goal was a “progression of spaces which are intended to unify the entire mixed-use project,” according to a 1987 document signed by then-planning commissioner Elizabeth Hollander and Chicago Dock’s president, Charles R. Gardner.
Thirty-one years later, no one disputes that Cityfront Center is a real estate success, even though it includes Chicago’s most infamous hole in the ground — the foundation for the unbuilt Chicago Spire, the twisting, 2,000-foot condominium tower that went bust in 2008.
The area, which turned out to be a better site for apartments than offices, is home to thousands of residents and generates tens of millions of dollars in annual property tax revenue.
Promenades are about moving; plazas are where you stop and take in the city. They are its living rooms. But Cityfront Center’s plazas don’t issue much of a welcome.
The problems begin at what’s supposed to be the western gateway to the district — Pioneer Court, a large but underachieving expanse of pavement at 401 N. Michigan Ave., next to the new Apple store.
On the plaza’s north side are rows of trellislike pavilions, trees and shrubbery. While those features provide much-needed places to sit, they block the view into the heart of Cityfront Center and partly obstruct the path to it. They even end in a cul-de-sac of fountains that forces pedestrians to retrace their steps.
Getting from one of Cityfront Center’s plazas to the other, it turns out, is no walk in the park.
The article has detailed maps and photos that show, in painful detail, how urban planners really need to brush up on A Pattern Language again.
I'm about to go home to take Parker to the vet (he's getting two stitches out after she removed a fatty cyst from his eyelid), and then to resume panicking packing. I might have time to read these three articles:
Moving tomorrow. I just want this to be over...
If the Kanye West–Donald Trump crazyfest didn't do it for you, there are plenty of other things to take a look at this lunchtime:
That's all for now. Enough crazy for one Friday.
Anyone who has traveled from the US to Canada or Europe notices quickly that their transit systems simply work better. Londoners may moan about the Tube, but one can get from any part of Greater London to any other at almost any time of day using trains or buses.
Writing for Citylab, Jonathan English explains why and how the rest of the world got it right and we got it so very wrong:
[T]o briefly summarize: Transit everywhere suffered serious declines in the postwar years, the cost of cars dropped and new expressways linked cities and fast-growing suburbs. That article pointed to a key problem: The limited transit service available in most American cities means that demand will never materialize—not without some fundamental changes.
Many, though not all, major cities in the U.S. have a number of rail lines radiating out of their centers. Most of them are only used by freight or a few commuter train trips a day. It’s a huge, untapped resource. There’s no reason why those railway lines can’t be turned into what are effectively subway lines—high-capacity routes that allow people to get across the city quickly—without the immense cost of tunneling. In Europe, what we usually call “commuter rail” operates frequently, all day, and cost the same fare as other local transit. That’s the difference between regional rail and commuter rail. A transit system with service that is only useful to 9-to-5 commuters to downtown will never be a useful one for most people.
Fares need to be low enough that people can afford to take transit. New York City will soon join other cities like Tucson and Ann Arbor in having discounted fares for low-income people. That is important to make transit accessible to everyone. But fair fares isn’t just about keeping fares low. It’s also about eliminating arbitrary inequities. People shouldn’t have to pay a transfer penalty or a double fare just because they switch from bus to rail, transfer between agencies, or travel across the city limits. A transfer is an inconvenience—you shouldn’t have to pay extra for it.
Fares should be set for the convenience of riders, not government agencies. A trip of a similar distance should have a similar fare, regardless of whether it’s on a bus or train, or if you have to cross city limits. Commuter rail shouldn’t be a “premium service” that only suburban professionals can afford.This is the kind of unfairness that infuriates people and drives them away from transit.
Chicago, by the way, has contemplated a regional farecard system for decades. Maybe someday...
VW will stop making the original People's Car later this year:
The streets of American cities were once carpeted in Bugs. From 1968 to 1973, more than a million were sold every year. In 1972, when it passed the 15 million mark, the Bug overtook the Ford Model T as the best-selling vehicle on the planet.
Yesterday, the German automaker announced that it would be killing the Beetle brand for the 2019 model year, news that surprised zero industry observers—these plans have been known for years—but still generated an involuntary spasm of nostalgia. Volkswagen, after all, has been making Beetles of one kind or another since the 1930s.
The Bug, like the many other, even tinier city cars that emerged from Europe after World War II, may have been similarly austere, but its heart was light, its face was friendly and round, and it was made for a youthful and urban world. You could stuff a family of five in there, or 18 college kids. You could park it anywhere. If it broke, you could pull the engine out and fix it on your kitchen table. For millions of young people—students, moms, working parents—the cheap, gas-sipping VW was your ticket to selfhood. Ford may have built the automobile age, but the Beetle conquered the city.
For the record, I was once one of 13 high-schoolers in an original VW Beetle.
Before diving back into one of the most abominable wrecks of a software application I've seen in years, I've lined up some stuff to read when I need to take a break:
OK. Firing up Visual Studio, reaching for the Valium...
Researchers at the City University of New York have discovered that Yelp data can show rising incomes with remarkable precision:
First, in testing a popular theory about signs of the gentry’s arrival, they pulled out all the Starbucks listings on Yelp across the United States dating back to 2007. Combining that information with Federal Housing Finance Agency data by zip code, they found that the arrival of every new Starbucks into a given area was associated with a 0.5 percent rise in local housing prices. Coffee shops of all kinds—artisanal and chain—had a similar relationship.
More broadly, they found that housing prices grew in tandem with the entry of new restaurants, bars, hair salons, convenience stores, and supermarkets. Counting reviews, the Yelp data also captured commercial activity at those businesses, which turned out to be a predictor of rising home values, too.
Fascinatingly, different listing types were more correlated with different demographics than others as they increased within Big Apple neighborhoods. Grocery stores were more strongly associated with demographics than any other listing type—the greater the change in grocery stores in a neighborhood, the greater the change in college-educated white people ages 25-34, the researchers found.
Citylab caveats the data, saying, "Still poorly understood, however, is which comes first in gentrifying neighborhoods: the wealthier residents or the 'nice' amenities."
Two weeks after a local artist completed a mural commissioned by the local chamber of commerce, Chicago's Streets and Sanitation department destroyed it:
Chicago-based artist JC Rivera’s signature bright yellow “bear champ” went up earlier this month at the CTA Paulina Brown Line stop. But the mural, commissioned by the Lakeview Chamber of Commerce and paid for out of a special taxpayer fund, wasn’t long for this world: In fact, it was on display for a shorter time than it took Rivera to paint the piece.
Late last week, someone notified the city’s 311 nonemergency center and reported the mural as graffiti, triggering a request for its removal, said Marjani Williams, a spokeswoman for the city’s Department of Streets and Sanitation. The city did not detail the 311 request.
It’s the latest instance of Streets and Sanitation workers wiping out something considered public art. In March, the work of French street artist Blek le Rat was blasted away from the side of Cards Against Humanity’s headquarters as the city stepped up graffiti cleanup near proposed sites for Amazon’s second headquarters.
It doesn't seem like Streets & San is doing this on purpose. They just don't care. Fortunately, one of our aldermen has proposed a city-wide mural registry to prevent this sort of thing from happening.
Chicago-based writer Daniel Kay Hertz finds that reactions to gentrification, and its effects, have remained the same for over a century:
I’ve been struck by the Groundhog Day quality of thinking on these changes. Decade after decade, observers alternately wonder at the latest clique of young, middle-class white people to have chosen to live in a less privileged urban neighborhood, and then predict that clique’s imminent demise, a return to the “natural” order of things.
As early as the 1920s, the sociologist Harvey Zorbaugh quoted people who swore that time was up for the residents of Tower Town, Chicago’s bohemian answer to New York City’s Greenwich Village, as young artists abandoned it. (Many of those who left just settled a short walk up the lakefront in what we now call Old Town.) Zorbaugh himself was convinced that the Gold Coast, the last inner city stronghold of Chicago’s upper class, had barely ten years left before the rich realized they would have fewer headaches farther from the chaos of the downtown Loop. (A century later, the Gold Coast is still, well, Gold.)
Often, even the gentrifiers themselves don’t quite believe that what they’ve created can last. Into the 1970s—when parts of Lincoln Park had already become wealthier than many white-collar suburbs—a Lincoln Park neighborhood association director fretted that one wrong development might push the area towards a “ghetto.”
Why have we found it so hard to believe that a generations-old trend of growing affluence at the core of a major city could be durable? And why has it proven so durable?
Hertz provides some pretty compelling and well-researched answers.
When I get home tonight, I'll need to read these (and so should you):
And now, I'm off to the Art Institute.