The Daily Parker

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The sad story of Cityfront Center

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.

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