Monday, June 29, 2015

Is Chicago a wheel city?

 
London Eye
     I've been to London, and seen the London Eye, and dismissed the 450-foot tall Ferris Wheel on the banks of the Thames, as many Londoners do, with a shudder of revulsion, as an out-of-place monstrosity that fits in the city of Christopher Wren like a steam calliope at a formal church wedding.
     That goes double for the Ferris Wheel at Navy Pier. which manages to be underwhelming and garish at the same time. At 150 feet tall, it rises to the height of a 15-story building. Which might be a big deal in Omaha. But the city that created the first Ferris wheel, at the 1893 World's Fair, could have done better.
     That one was unique in the world; this one is a nostalgic parody, a feeble homage, like those Al Capone bus tours.
     I rode it again last summer, in my role as benevolent tour guide, squiring a young country cousin. As we inched upward, in the wheel's slow rise, a view unfolded almost identical to the view you get standing on the pier, except you're $8 poorer.
     Perhaps it's thrilling for 4-year-olds. Otherwise, put it in the classic Chicago tradition of fleecing the greenhorns.
     To better accomplish this task, the Navy Pier folks announced last week they are replacing the wheel with a bigger one.
     First, a confession. My grumpiness on this topic must stem from my being in that time of life when things once thought permanent are suddenly wearing out. We have a lovely Herendon sofa, bought at enormous expense at Marshall Field's in the early 1990s. The fabric, a thick, rich green material, depicting ferns, like something from a medieval tapestry. The sofa seemed destined to last the centuries and end up displayed behind a velvet rope in a gallery.
     Instead it's battered and threadbare, banished to the TV room, the split cushions hidden under blankets. Put it out on the curb and nobody would touch it.
     So clock hands are spinning, calendar pages fluttering to the floor. And now the Ferris wheel at Navy Pier — which I watched being built as a metro reporter—has seen its day and will be torn down in the fall. Not because it is worn out, thank God, but because it isn't big enough and the cars are open.
     Again, a disconnect. The cars being open is the only bare value you got for your eight bucks. Yes, you were being taken 1/8 of the way up the Willis Tower. But at least you were outside. There was air and a tiny frisson of acrophobia.
     Now riders will be sealed in heated and cooled cars, so the tourists packing Navy Pier can seek escape by taking Ferris wheel rides in February.
     Is there a demand for that? I can't tell. Navy Pier's popularity is a puzzlement to me. I can't write about it without mentioning a strong memory from the late 1980s: walking the length of the pier's dark, desolate, abandoned ruin, thinking, "They're turning this into some tourist Mecca? That's crazy. Nobody's going to come here."
     The most popular tourist attraction in Illinois. Mobs of tourists rush past the Art Institute and Millennium Park to get in line at Bubba Gump Shrimp. Again, maybe this is age talking. When the boys were small, back in the 1990s—the last century!—we did enjoy the Children's Museum and the Winter Garden. But for the past decade, the only time I visit Navy Pier is when I'm rushing, late, to go on the radio at WBEZ, way the heck at the end of the pier. Pushing through this dense, milling crowd of Iowan families as they waddle from McDonald's to the teddy bear factory, the air cloying with the scent of sugary nuts, it's all I can do to get to the station without having my eye put out by a churro.
     They're building a bigger Ferris wheel. Question: If ours is 150 feet tall now, and London's is 450 feet, and Vegas' 550 feet, and New York is building one 630 feet, how big will the new Ferris wheel at Navy Pier be? 300 feet? Maybe 500 feet? Or 700 feet? If the wheel were proportional to our civic self-regard, it would be 1,000 feet tall.
     No, 196 feet. Only a little bigger. How that's worth the $26 million it'll take to do is a mystery to me. But then again, the whole darn thing's a mystery to me.

33 comments:

  1. Why not build an exact replica of the original wheel on the pier, or is that too complicated for them?

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    1. Too big -- 248 feet -- apparently.

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    2. Oh, but I think that was such a cool idea! The original one was a totally different concept then current Ferris wheels! Yes, the size is all wrong; how on earth could Chicago at less than the biggest and most populous! But of course, that was the thought for the original :-).

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  2. lol, eye put out by a churro


    and indeed, they do waddle when they are from corn fed Iowa, don't they

    well either way I 'd have to take Dramamine to get on one of those

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  3. The boat rides, where I work, are a worthy attraction. I agree about the rest of it. It's a shopping mall. When people ask for recommendations, it's an embarrassing challenge. I always suggest the stained glass museum, the Crystal Palace/Gardens or, hesitatingly, the Billy Goat (it's a lame version). Seems to me like the perfect, perhaps the only, place for the Lucas Museum. That surely doesn't belong on the Museum Campus and I think it's right in the Pier's "wheelhouse" (see what I did there?).

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    1. I thought the stained glass museum was gone from the pier.

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    2. The stained glass museum was hauled away last year.

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  4. The city should find a way to use that money to pay the outrageous pensions instead.

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  5. Yes, interesting they have money for non necessary things. Or to keep the beach open in the Hispanic neighborhood that ONtiveros writes about.

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    1. If all we're talking about is utility, why not judge it on the basis of whether it adds to the Chicago economy or not? If it's the #1 tourist attraction and is making the city money, keeping it attractive or adding to its allure arguably helps other programs more than direct funding would. I feel the same way about the new DePaul stadium: if all it does is help DePaul fans and hosts a few concerts, it's a waste. If it plugs addresses the woeful inadequacy of McCormick Place and helps take some convention business from Rosemont, let alone cites outside of the Chicago area, that's another story.

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    2. good point, ANA

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    3. boy, you sure got an extra dose of brains, as they were forming ;)

      and you say you were biking the trails? you must be younger than I thought

      you aren't just glip, you're cocky but it fits

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  6. Put Navy Pier in Bucktown and you'd basically have Northbrook Court - it's the views and the ability to "go deep" into Lake Michigan so to speak that make Navy Pier so attractive and the mall like stores/eateries are a way to extend your time out there. I like to bike up and down the pier if I'm riding the lakefront trail in the early morning and sometimes text a photo to friends.

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  7. We took overseas visitors to Navy Pier a few years ago. The kids loved it, the adults thought it a horror. Still, one can't really object to the city making something out of nothing and adding to the attraction of the lakefront. As for the wheel, these things are for tourists. Chicagoans should know that better views of its not very interesting cityscape are available from some of the taller buildings. Just as Parisians know that you can get a better view of the city by walking up the hill to Montmartre than from the Eifel Tower..

    In London, the Eye (now called the "Coca Cola London Eye," which is even more of an abomination than the structure itself) is tall enough to give a nice view up and down the Thames, but locals know that taking the Northern Line up to Hampstead, going for a ramble across the Heath and mounting Parliament Hill will afford much more expansive views. Look south and all of London is laid out before your eyes. Turn around facing Hampstead and Highgate and you are in the 18th Century.

    Tom Evans

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  8. Well put, Mr. Evans. And you are certainly well traveled.

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  9. It's not just out-of-towners who like waddling families, chain restaurants and mall-like scenes (let alone malls). Just look at all the people who move to the suburbs - and they pay even bigger premiums than the ridiculous Navy Pier prices!

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  10. Lol, no, in many suburbs the property taxes are lower, the public schools are just fine and no bullshit with the parking or the stickers-less crime too. The city is much more expensive. Don't be an urban snob.

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    1. And we can actually bike in wooded trails nearby and not get run over. Car insurance is cheaper too and the traffic in some suburbs not as bad as the city.

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    2. And we don't waddle. :)

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    3. No urban snob here! I'm "protesting" the anti-suburban snobbery - I'm a fan of the suburbs, primarily for the low crime and better schools. The buy-in to the nice ones is pricey though, and goodness knows there's enough mall-like scenes and chain restaurants. That said, urban snobbery isn't entirely bad. It's helped keep a base of yuppies and middle class families in the city that has stabilized the city.

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    4. excuse the misunderstanding over your wording

      one doesn't have to be in a super fancy suburb to get the good benefits though

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    5. Neil, you get what you pay for doesn't always apply. Don't buy furniture from dept. stores.

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  11. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    1. Hello Dennis. There's nothing wrong with saying you aren't gay, if you aren't or wanting to clarify.

      May I humbly suggest, that if you don't want mix ups, you stay away from such events.

      Lady anon

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    2. I think you reacted properly. Thanks for writing.

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  12. Attn: Mr. Blog host-the other side isn't taking any more posts. It hit 200 and the others don't show up or says load more, but it doesn't.

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    1. Thanks. I'll get something new up ASAP.

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  13. No more stained glass, eh? I stroll through every couple of weeks so I (think I) know what's in there, but never realized it was gone. The whole thing reminds me of the former Old Chicago in Bolingbrook, shopping mall w/amusement park (lasted about five years). Alas, the Pier is still where the Lucas Museum should go, if anywhere. Perfectly Mall-like...

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  14. No more stained glass, eh? I stroll through every couple of weeks so I (think I) know what's in there, but never realized it was gone. The whole thing reminds me of the former Old Chicago in Bolingbrook, shopping mall w/amusement park (lasted about five years). Alas, the Pier is still where the Lucas Museum should go, if anywhere. Perfectly Mall-like...

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  15. This comment has been removed by the author.

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