|The Tribune called this "a wondrous view of the Chicago skyline."|
Would you want to live here?
I was reading the latest frisson of official excitement over the pending sale of the South Works site, nearly 500 acres of scrubland and abandoned industrial lakefront ruin. And journalists were doing what journalists do, echoing the lofty dreams of those with a financial stake in something farfetched working, channeling the enthusiasm of public officials with a vested interest: in this case, the mayor's office and two European firms buying 440-acres along the lakefront from 79th Street to the Calumet River.
They say they plan on building 20,000 homes. Plus, one hopes, streets and stores and sidewalks and fire hydrants and schools and a hospital and a train line and a bank and a few coffee shops because there's really nothing there. Bunches of scrub trees. A 2,000 foot concrete wall, 30 feet high, a monstrosity that used to contain ore off-loaded from barges, and now looks like some last ditch defense against alien attack, built 10,000 years ago and now crumbling in the Martian wind.
The Tribune editorialized that the site has a "wondrous view of the Chicago skyline." With a telescope, maybe. You know where you can find better views? About 100 other places in Chicago.
The mayor's office called the project "a major milestone." I guess if you can't fix the city you've got, you dream of building a new city from scratch. The murder rate here is certainly very low, there being no people.
I visited the site three years ago, when Dan McCaffery was pitching the area for the Obama Library. But the library said, in essence, "Yeah right, like we're going to settle there."
The Tribune story used the word "modular" for the homes, which I read as "pre-fab" and "cheap," and I suppose a builder could set up some kind of glorified trailer park and people who couldn't afford to live in desirable parts of the city might settle there. Homesteaders, on Chicago's version of the prairie. Though if you want that you can still move to Uptown. And nobody is so poor they want to live on a veldt.
McCaffrery spent a dozen years in partnership with U.S. Steel and ended up with nothing. He's quite a skilled businessman, and his failure to raise so much as a nail salon on the site should carry more weight in our assessment of the current effort. What's changed? People are leaving Chicago, remember? So it isn't as if we're in desperate need of land to put the new residents who aren't coming here to live.
Maybe I don't have the vision: I also wondered who the heck would want to come to some pleasure dome on Navy Pier. But anyone who thinks the place has a future, I defy you to actually go there. I did. It's the moon. Bring a sack lunch, because there's nothing. Spend an hour. And if you aren't willing to do that—and I imagine you're not—how are 20,000 people going to move there?