In general, I’m supportive of some civic attention being paid to Wabash Avenue, but I will be sad to lose the dramatic shadows underneath it when the lighting gets upgraded.
Wabash Avenue, critically located between the tourist attractions on Michigan Avenue and shopping on State Street, is poised to undergo a significant makeover.
After more than a year spent collecting input and brainstorming, the Chicago Loop Alliance, the organization that promotes the downtown business district, has issued final recommendations for transforming the iconic corridor under the “L” tracks into a more inviting street.
The 24 recommendations range from the immediate, such as removing graffiti and litter, to the long-term, which includes installing a kinetic lighting installation running the length of the tracks.
Wabash, given its location under the tracks, tends to be dark and loud, often gathering litter and flocks of pigeons. It has higher vacancy rates, lower commercial and residential rents and lower pedestrian and vehicle counts than neighboring streets. Twelve of the projects to improve the street should start within the next two years, nine of them in two to five years and three of them five to 10 years from now, according to a timeline in the final report.
I’ve long predicted this trend – why would anyone willingly work in a soulless suburban office park instead of in a vibrant downtown? Even parents happily enrolling their kids in suburban schools still get bored and head for the city when it is time for some culture. Strip malls just don’t have the same energy. Cities are not perfect, but they are where the action is.
For decades, most Americans working in metropolitan areas have gone to work outside city centers – in suburban office parks, stores or plants, not downtown skyscrapers. But as people increasingly choose to live in cities instead of outside them, employers are following.
In recent years, employment in city centers has grown and employment in the surrounding suburban areas has shrunk, a striking change from the years before, according to a report published Tuesday by City Observatory, a think tank.
Cities with a high concentration of urban jobs include Austin, New Orleans and Portland, Ore. In Atlanta, Los Angeles and Miami, meanwhile, less than 10 percent of jobs are in the urban core.
The 110-story Willis Tower in downtown Chicago is a microcosm of the shifting geography of jobs. Originally called the Sears Tower, it was built in 1970 by Sears Roebuck and Co. But in 1988, Sears left it for a green suburban campus in Hoffman Estates, Ill. Then, in 2013, United Airlines moved its world headquarters and 4,000 employees into the tower. Other companies like Motorola Mobility and Archer Daniels Midland have also recently relocated to downtown Chicago from suburban campuses.
Chicago has gained more creative jobs, international tourism, university centers and residential development. The Chicago Loop, the city’s central business district, has been transformed from a financial district that emptied at 5 p.m. to a seven-day-a-week entertainment zone, said Aaron Renn, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute.
The changes have been driven in part by employees wanting to live and work downtown, said Mr. Renn, who writes the Urbanophile blog: “Today there is more of an expectation on the part of both people and employers that they have to be more flexible and accommodating of their work force.”
As an aside, this is why I usually find the corporate threats to leave and go somewhere else so hollow – do employees of 3 Initial Corp., or whichever entity currently has their hand out for taxpayer largesse, really want to move to Podunk land? Probably not…
Now, if we could only convince politicians that investment in such urban-friendly items as public transit, infrastructure improvements and the like is good for the long term health of the nation…
An another addition to the crazy urban planning file, though probably less realistically going to happen than our last sojourn into Detroit…
In his book, titled “Belle Isle: Detroit’s Game Changer,” Rodney Lockwood, an executive with a successful Detroit-area real estate firm, outlines a very specific plan on how to develop the city-owned, uninhabited 928-acre island in the Detroit River, between U.S and Canadian waters.
Lockwood’s pitch is for a group of wealthy investors to buy the island from Detroit for $1 billion and “build a supercharged community with its own laws, customs, transportation systems, taxation and currency, transforming Belle Isle into the ‘Midwest Tiger,’ rivaling Singapore and Hong Kong as an economic miracle,” according to Lockwood’s website.
The island would then be developed into a city-state of about 35,000 people, complete with “its own laws customs and currency, under United States supervision as a Commonwealth.”
Belle Isle would be founded on the principles of limited government, “exceptional” aesthetics and “respect for all citizens,” Lockwood says. Citizens would be submit themselves to criminal background checks before moving to the island, and once there, would not pay any corporate or income taxes.
Lockwood imagines that people would immigrate from all over the world to live on Belle Isle, but to gain citizenship, people would first have to apply and be approved and then post a fee of about $300,000, which would be used to repay the group of investors as well as finance infrastructure and back the nation’s own currency.
The island would also be an environmental haven.
“Served by a monorail, Belle Isle is a walking community, with restricted hours for vehicles. With emphasis on great planning and architecture, people from all over the world come to Belle Isle, to be part of its freedom and opportunity culture,” Lockwood writes.
Years ago, I read a book (or series?) set in the near future where all the freeways had been turned into public parks.
Everybody’s been sort of trained to believe that if you’ve got a traffic problem, all you have to do is make the pipe bigger, you know, make the road wider and that’ll solve the problem. The Detroit metropolitan area is covered with freeways. Ever freeway you could possible imagine has been built—although there are a couple left on the drawing board—but more than any other place in the country, the Michigan DOT pretty much go its way.
And they have solved the problem that they identified, which was congestion. The city of Detroit doesn’t really have a problem with congestion anymore. That’s the least of their problems. So by creating a transportation system that encouraged people to leave town—the population of the city is about a third of what it was since 1950. They had 300 miles of streetcars at the end of the war. That’s all gone. Now they have these big roads. The street grid has been cut up, so it’s hard to move around on the surface streets. And normally that’s a big problem, but with Detroit the rush hour has become so uneventful that you really don’t have a problem with congestion. You have to go out to the suburbs to find congestion that you’re used to in America…
The stated goal was to battle congestion, and in Detroit, they did it. And there are side effects. You could take care of congestion in New York in a similar way: If you eliminate the 700 miles of subway, eliminate the commuter trains, build the Cross-Manhattan Expressway, put the West Side Highway back in—build all the freeways that Robert Moses didn’t get around to building—you could probably solve the congestion problem in New York. Manhattan’s population would drop from 2 million down to half a million, and the city would become a really poor place instead of a rich place.
The point I’m making is that, since the postwar period, federal transportation policy has been focused on eliminating congestion, and that’s too narrow a goal. The goal ought to be, What adds value to society? What adds value to the economy? If you look at the richest places in America, they’re the most congested.