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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Many factors are given credit for the rebirth of downtown Chicago that began towards the end of the 1980’s. Certainly the leadership of Rich Daley played a huge part, as did the “I Will” spirit of a city too powerful and too driven to make itself the best that was destined to make Chicago rise again.

One part of the revival that I think doesn’t get the credit it should is the lay of the land, the unique geography of downtown Chicago.

The rail hub of the nation during a time when rail no longer dominated the transportation scene surrounded the Loop core with land just sitting there for development. Indeed, I believe it was Pru I that was first in the nation to develop the concept of air rights. The Gateway buildings west of the river used these very rights to absorb areas outside the Loop into the CBD. Illinois Center, Lakeshore East, Museum Park and a whole slew of South Loop developments are testimony of how underunitilized rail land can form not individual projects, but large scale planned development so in tune with today’s urban needs.

That the rail lands were also supplemented by factories and warehouses that were long past their prime usage, but containing a legacy of remarkable architecture only added to the ability to spread downtown out of its original core with an ease that other cities, not so blessed with developable land, could not generate.

Chicago benefitted greatly from having an underutilized, close in landscape that made for easy transition to more modern usage.

Which brings us to today.

A recent thread, similiar to other threads, rightfully lamented that Chicago’s resurgence, despite the glory of downtown and the excessive North Side gentrification, left vast areas of the South and West Sides untouched, wallowing in decay. The contrasts between these areas and the other boroughs of New York City, reinvigorated by immigration and gentrification, and our own dead zone neighborhoods sadly couldn’t be greater.

Yet, perhaps, from the shells of these neighborhoods long scarred by racial divide and the grittiest remains of an industrial and rail past may be the beneficiaries of our current era as the vast rail yards were to central Chicago a few decades past.

The price of gasoline has soared. Even with stabilization, it will not be going down. The age of cheap gas is over. The age of economic reality is upon it, flush with the necessity of making wise use of the landscape to maximize its saving of energy. In the process, of course, comes the wonderful spin off of an enriched urban enviornment through large scale, planned development where density is based on necessity, somewhat analogous to Meis’s “form follows function” in architecture. An impressive, if somewhat rag tag, mass transit system has infrastructure in place and which can be made up to date and expanded to complete the transformation of the viable 21st century city.

Chicago, the major hub that it is, may well have an advantage over New York during this upcoming era when living in the city makes sense, planned development with sufficent space to make it work becomes to the rule. Chicago’s underutilized and underpopulated West and South Sides could, no should, become the center of the renaissance for a new residential Chicago. Unlike peer cities (places like San Francisco and Boston, as well as New York), trendy, inviting Chicago offers the posiblity of land redevelopment that is sorely missing in other desirable urban locales.

Our frustrations of the lack of development today are real and warranted, but indeed it may well have taken something major,the new economic reality and the premium it placed on urban growth to be the catylist that could truly get the type of rebirth that these areas so desperately need, and at this point, is so desperately needed by us as a metropolitan area blessed with a solid core that gives every indication that it is ready for the reverse of the suburban exodus era and the energy-induced back to the city (and to the inner ring suburbs) movement.
 

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I think you're right. These large areas west and south south of the loop (especially near south) poise an major redevelopment opportunity for the City that will have a major positive impact if it is done right. It will certainly make the city even more vibrant and, attractive to those who are seeking a place that offers a great quality of life. I just hope any redevelopment is done in a way that focuses on human scale buildings and favor pedestrians rather that automobiles.
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
I think you're right. These large areas west and south south of the loop (especially near south) poise an major redevelopment opportunity for the City that will have a major positive impact if it is done right. It will certainly make the city even more vibrant and, attractive to those who are seeking a place that offers a great quality of life. I just hope any redevelopment is done in a way that focuses on human scale buildings and favor pedestrians rather that automobiles.
I think it will be more than "favoring pedestrians rather than automobiles"; it will be more like "we're all about pedestrians and public transportation."

I don't see what is coming up looking very much like what has happened during the past 30-40 years of gentrification. How many people who were part of that movement into the city were doing so because of lifestyle issues and had the money to pull it off? And how many of them insisted on having 2 car garages even if they lived as close in to the city's core as Lincoln Park?

The new wave, I predict, will be more about saving energy cost through the availability of comprehensive public transit for work and further savings in doing the routines of life. I believe it will be more family based as sprawling, far flung suburban areas prove cost ineffective due to their use of energy. In essence, city properties will be more expensive, but that will be more than compensated by savings in gas.

Even in an incredibly weak housing market like we have today, a developer who is able to get a large enough piece of land for comprehensive development, perhaps further out on the West, Southwest, or South sides, might be able to make a very shrewd investment aimed at this growing segment of Chicago area people who want to live in or close to Chicago because of cost benefits, not the joy of a Starbucks on every other corner.
 

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First of all - Pru 1 wasn't the first tower in the country to use air rights. Merchandise Mart was much earlier, and it used the air rights from the Chicago & Northwestern Railroad. I'm not sure it was the first building to do this, but it was certainly one of the pioneers.

However, the densification you're talking about on the South and West Sides can only come about as a result of demolition... right? And even if the city keeps the big buildings to vacant lots, people will complain about "losing their neighborhood character". After the Trib ran their expose about "pay-to-play" zoning ruining the character of neighborhoods, their comment boards started filling with whines about how the city is going all to hell because some people's backyards in Bucktown are shadowed by the 4-story building next door.

What nobody talks about is how the neighborhoods' population actually declines with gentrification (smaller household sizes and bigger living units). But the neighborhood infrastructure depends on large populations. The schools are big buildings which in many cases are only half-used. Large sewers anticipate high amounts of water consumption. And so on. In order to counterbalance the loss of population, the neighborhood needs to get some bigger buildings that can hold more people - and this means going up, or increasing the physical density.

If city dwellers cannot accept this need for additional physical density, then they are little better than suburbanites, whose sprawling developments require long stretches of pavement, landscaping, sewer, gas, and electrical lines that are out of proportion (in cost) to the limited number of people they serve.
 
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