This urban intervention in Chicago would let citizens control colorful lights under the “El” with their smartphones

City Terrain Lighting Midwest Urbanism
Wabash Lights, a site-specific installation under Chicago's L. (Courtesy Wabash Lights)

Wabash Lights, a site-specific installation under Chicago’s L. (Courtesy Wabash Lights)

Chicago is best known for Wrigley Field and the Sears Tower (yes, the Sears Tower), but one of its most prominent urban features is the elevated train tracks that form the “Loop,” or the downtown area bound by this snaking steel goliath. However poetic the idea of the “El” might be, it brute steel structure could, like most raised infrastructures, use some improvements.

Wabash Lights, a site-specific installation under Chicago's L. (Courtesy Wabash Lights)

Wabash Lights, a site-specific installation under Chicago’s L. (Courtesy Wabash Lights)

To draw attention to improving the El, the Chicago Loop Alliance has even outlined a plan called Transforming Wabash, which focuses on one heavily trafficked throughway underneath train tracks.

The Wabash Lights is a site-specific installation that would convert a stretch of the tracks into a programmable light show with over 5,000 LED tubes. Urban instigators Jack C. Newell and Seth Unger need your help to Kickstart a pilot of the project, and, at the time of publication, they have less than a week to raise $13,000 to complete their crowdfunding campaign. The underside of the elevated train tracks above Wabash Avenue will be their test site for the lights, which the pair says embrace and celebrate the existing, rather than destroying the character of what is there.

From the Kickstarter campaign:

For most people visiting or living in Chicago, Wabash Avenue in the Loop is a dark, noisy, sometimes scary place to either avoid or walk quickly through. Positioned between the history of State Street and the futuristic playground of Millennium Park, Wabash Avenue is an underutilized resource in the city for art, culture, and business.

The design calls for 520 light tubes that are programmable every 1.2 inches, and Chicago residents can control the lights using a smartphone or computer.

The project was initially entangled in a bit of a bureaucratic red tape, but it now has gained all of the approvals needed to move forward with a pilot outside of the Palmer House Hilton on Wabash Avenue. The duo has been working closely with the Chicago Transit Authority, the Chicago Department of Transportation, and the city government.

To contribute to the project and see Chicago’s streets come to life, head on over to their Kickstarter page.

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