Tuesday, August 8, 2017

If we can't fix the city we've got, we'll build a new one


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? 


  

9 comments:

  1. Every politician throughout the late 1980's
    And the 1990's promised to reopen the mills. There were those of us who knew it beyond there power to do so, but it didn't stop quite a few from voting for the lies. I presume this is just more of the same for this beleaguered area.

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  2. 20,000 people? Probably closer to 80,000.

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  3. As someone who grew up at 78th & Coles, I know there are thousands of people who live just beyond the borders of the area in question. I don't think they are clamoring to get a chance to buy a house in that wasteland. It looks like the weeds don't even grow there plus there's the question of manganese pollution that was mentioned in today's paper.

    john

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    1. I lived at 79th and Essex between 1952 and 1957. I looked at Google Maps for some reason I thought Coles was closer to Essex.

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  4. Before he became an unintended victim of TARP. Michael Kelly of FBOP Bancorp had a group lined up to turn another former steel site (Ryerson? Inland?) into a mix of low and moderate income housing and businesses (so actual places to work would be accessible for the folks that lived there). Something similar could happen here. Not saying it will!

    I guess to Mr. Steinberg's point, there's a difference between a giant vacant lot and a place with streets and homes and stores and restaurants. Not sure many of us want to spend an hour on a vacant lot, so his challenge doesn't necessarily prove anything. And I suspect his photo of the skyline isn't indicative of the actual view! Whihala Beach in IN is even further away, and it has a pretty impressive view of the skyline.

    The project could flame out. It could succeed, but still suck. Or it could work. We'll find out. I guess, if given the choice between building on a crappy vacant lot that nevertheless has some roadbeds and access to infrastructure built for the former factory buildings (water, sewage, electricity) and building through, say, a forest preserve or through ripping down existing housing and displacing the residents -- give me the ugly vacant lot.

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    1. Speaking of "displacing residents," one might consider the area on the West side of Cicero just South of the Stevenson Expressway more ripe for development than the "scrubland" abandoned by the steel mills. The residents have already been displaced and it's rather a nice looking piece of real estate, a grassy expanse dotted with sturdy looking trees. And close to transportation.

      john

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  5. I'm totally baffled by the 'modular housing' part of this, since it's still illegal to use 'modular housing' in Chicago, due to the city caving to the various building unions & making their work rules part of the building code.

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  6. Obama Library interest in Jackson Park led me to revisit "The Devil in White City." That property was a wasteland, but adjacency to the lakeshore caused it be selected as the site for the Columbian Exposition, which probably inspired subsequent development. That and the University of Chicago. Perhaps such a transformation could occur here, but without such catalysts it's hard to seem how. The place seems pretty remote.

    Tom

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  7. if I could live on the lakefront I would . if I could get a 2 bedroom for less than 600,000 with that view of the skyline. 40 minutes closer to my summer home . tomorrow

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