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On October 26, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn and Mayor Rahm Emanuel cut the ribbon opening a brand-new roadway through the former site of a massive U.S. Steel manufacturing plant. Over the next 40 years, McCaffery Interests is planning to build a massive, sustainably designed mixed-use development known as Lakeside on this 600-acre area in South Chicago.
City and state transportation departments have been planning the South Lake Shore Drive extension to reroute through traffic on U.S. 41 around residential areas since before McCaffery and Skidmore, Owings & Merrill revealed the Lakeside master plan in 2004.
The $64 million, state and city-funded road now connects to 79th Street at Rainbow Beach Park in the north and crosses the Calumet River with Ewing Avenue in the south. It does more than provide a bypass of residential areas to the west. South Lake Shore Drive, which connects to Lake Shore Drive via South Shore Drive and Marquette, gives Lakeside the edge it needs to attract retailers to anchor its first phase, called the Market Common.
During a tour in October, McCaffery Interests project manager Nasutsa Mabwa said that the road was delayed for three years. In 2010, press reports said construction would begin in 2012, but it wasn’t until Mayor Rahm Emanuel came into office in 2011 that the road’s construction got back on track.
South Lake Shore Drive is 1.9 miles long and was built with some sustainable development features. For example, it offers parallel parking atop permeable pavement, is illuminated with LED street lights, and is planted with 600 new trees. It also has wide bike lanes along half its length.
The Lakeside website presents a transit vision of using rapid bus routes and light rail that cut down the travel time from the development to Midway airport and downtown. An electric commuter rail is less than half a mile away. Mabwa said that the images on the website are ideas. “We know we have some weak points and we know we have to bring the rail transit closer,” she said. The Chicago Transit Authority has the option to plan buss routes on South Lakes Shore Drive. All of its existing bus routes serve residential areas located a couple blocks west.
South Lake Shore Drive also opens Park 523 to the public for the first time. The park was built in 2008, just a year after Solo Cup sold some land to Lakeside Development, and five years after 87th Street was connected to meet it and provide access to a proposed Solo factory.
The City of Santa Monica recently green-lighted construction on the $10.7 million Colorado Esplanade streetscape project, designed to improve public access to the Santa Monica Pier and provide pedestrian links from the soon-to-arrive Expo Light Rail line. Work will commence next year, and the light rail is scheduled to arrive by 2016.
Designed by Peter Walker Partners, the landscape firm behind the National September 11 Memorial, the plan turns Colorado Boulevard into a westbound-only, multi-modal thoroughfare from the downtown Santa Monica station at Fourth Street all the way to Ocean Avenue, edging the coast. A new promenade will connect the light rail station to Ocean Avenue, the Pier, and the future Palisades Garden Walk. An expansive public amphitheater stairway, called the Gateway Triangle Garden, will lead to the Expo Line’s Fourth Street Station and create a dedicated public gathering zone, named the Downtown Expo Station Plaza. The City Council had earlier rejected a xeriscape design for this zone, noting that a more welcoming public space was desired.
The plan also includes dedicated bike lanes in both directions and widens the south-side sidewalk to a generous 55 feet with decorative paving and seating. The lanes will eventually tie in to the regional network of bike paths and connect with Santa Monica’s Bike Center. Numerous trees will also be added in accordance with the city’s Urban Forest Master Plan.
According to the Santa Monica Lookout, the city has secured $9.7 million in funding, including a $3.3 million Metro grant. When legislation shut down California redevelopment agencies last February, the city had to cut the promenade budget in half.
Chicago’s Rosenwald Apartments are a perennial presence on preservationists’ most endangered lists, so speculation swirled when it was announced last year that city funds would help revive the massive Bronzeville complex.
The 1920s affordable housing project was built with money from Sears Roebuck and Co. leader Julius Rosenwald. A massive multifamily development, the four-story complex takes up a whole city block at 46th Street and South Michigan Avenue, enclosing a private two-acre courtyard.
Vacant for a decade, the building’s decay has mirrored that of many blocks in the neighborhood. But Bronzeville is not short on plans to rejuvenate this community, which is sometimes called The Black Metropolis. In fact, the Rosenwald redevelopment plan, though welcomed by some, irked the local community development partnership for its reliance on low-income housing.
Royce Cunningham, an architect living in Bronzeville, is one who wished for more from Rosenwald, so he asked a class of local high school students to reimagine the site. They rendered it as a “green live-work environment” that retained the original facade, but filled in the building’s 47th Street setbacks with photovoltaic glass conservatories to complement rooftop greenhouses.
Courtesy Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning; Courtesy Trevor Mauro / IPRO
That project (dubbed the Julius Rosenwald-Booker T. Washington Gardens) isn’t getting built. But Cunningham has gathered a group of black designers committed to “evangelizing and apostilizing energy efficiency, sustainability, and green technology to urban Chicagoland.”
“We realized this community was underrepresented,” Cunningham said. “The vision is that people would start changing their lifestyles by eating fresh food, and we would see young people embrace our agrarian roots.”
Cunningham’s own parents followed the Great Migration patterns that millions of African-Americans took to Chicago at the start of the 20th century. His parents came to Chicago’s stockyards from Arkansas and Texas, where they grew up as sharecroppers.
With his firm Architectural Services Group, Cunningham holds patents on several small-scale components of what he believes could help affordable housing become environmentally sustainable. They include a closet-unit gardening system and a solar-powered, low-voltage street lamp that charges electric vehicles.
Cunningham met horticulturalist Richard Dobbs and the other designers who comprise a gropu they call BUILD BOLD a few years ago while they were studying for LEED certification.
Dobbs, who has worked with the Chicago Botanic Garden and nearby urban garden Eden Place, said the neighborhood’s historical significance is unappreciated. “People take it for granted,” he said. “But it’s a potential goldmine. It’s just untapped.”
In addition to Eden Place, community gardens have sprung up on residential plots throughout the neighborhood, from the Bronzeville Community Garden on 51st Street to Sacred Keepers Sustainability Lab at 48th and King Drive, which is reserved for young gardeners.
In convening local designers under BUILD BOLD, Cunningham is tapping into a broader effort to rebrand and revitalize Bronzeville.
Paula Robinson, president of the Black Metropolis National Heritage Area Commission, has been part of the neighborhood’s bid for national recognition since 2004. With the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, they released a feasibility study for the idea in September. The designation would qualify the area for matching federal funds to build on development in the area.
“This is not just something we’re doing to share jazz history, blues, those kind of cultural achievements,” Robinson told WBEZ. “We intend to be a sustainable destination.”
To do that they’re focusing on the neighborhood’s open spaces: 367-acre Washington Park, the city’s largest, and Burnham Park, home to the recently rehabbed 31st Street Harbor. At the northern tip of the state’s ambitious Millennium Reserve plan to consolidate and develop open spaces in the region, Bronzeville could serve as a gateway from the city to forest preserves further south.
They’re also pushing transportation. Part of the effort to establish bike lanes and promote pedestrian-friendly streets has been motivated by necessity—the CTA Red Line reconstruction project has closed a major neighborhood train route for six months. Robinson told AN that they are looking at establishing a “historic bike trail” down State Street.
As the third component of their bid to rebrand the area, Robinson and others are reaching out to the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) and the University of Chicago. IIT professor Blake Davis runs a class in the college of architecture called IPRO, which directs students to design solutions for neighborhood problems. Previous efforts led to the creation of the nationally lauded urban agriculture program The Plant. His students are now looking to turn an abandoned rail line along 40th Street into an urban agriculture innovation cluster.
Segregated communities cut off by highways and other dividing lines aren’t sustainable, the designers of BUILD BOLD argue. Instead of relying on outside inputs for economic development, Bronzeville could capitalize on its assets as a cultural destination, building a sustainable community from the ground up.
“Bronzeville is the perfect site,” said Cunningham. “We have this housing stock that lends itself to repurposing.”
For Bronzeville’s real estate market, overcoming the legacy of public housing and its negative perceptions has been difficult. A study released last year by students at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign compared the neighborhood to Pilsen, where development and gentrification have picked up.
But development has not stalled. Earlier this year a $46 million shopping complex broke ground, anchored by a 41,000-square-foot Wal-Mart “Neighborhood Market” store focused on groceries.
Neighborhood investment could help accelerate efforts by community members like Robinson, who hope that Mayor Rahm Emanuel, while he pours millions into marketing campaigns aimed at increasing tourism, will look to the South Side, where few of those dollars are spent or reinvested. It could also help Cunningham’s vision for a green, self-sufficient neighborhood.
“We want 47th Street to be the lead in all this,” he said. “Can you imagine driving down Michigan Ave. from 22nd Street all the way through 75th and seeing wind turbines, permeable pavement, all of that?”
Emanuel’s office identified Bronzeville as one of the city’s “opportunity areas” for economic growth. Touting hundreds of millions of dollars already spent on or committed to projects in the area, including a new CTA stop near the McCormick Place Convention Center, the mayor’s announcement echoed Robinson’s call for “T3”: tourism, transportation, and technology.
“People are involved in different aspects of this, but our job is to pull it all together,” said Robinson. “That’s when sustainability is going to mean something.”
If advocates for MyFigueroa, the LA Department of Transportation (LADOT)–managed initiative to transform Figueroa Boulevard from downtown to Exposition Park into a multimodal streetscape get their wish, one of Los Angeles’ busiest and most historic thoroughfares will re-emerge as a biker’s and walker’s paradise. (It could be the first of many: On October 10, Mayor Eric Garcetti launched a program to improve up to forty streets across the city). But it may not happen if the path doesn’t commence construction by January as scheduled. In order to not default on the $30 million Proposition 1C grant the project was awarded in 2010, all work must be completed by December 2014. While the LADOT is moving ahead, some intense local opposition may cause delays that could put the project at risk.
The plan would reduce the number of lanes on South Figueroa from five to four and add fully separated bicycle lanes, new trees and landscaping, bicycle and mass transit amenities, public art, high-visibility continental crosswalks, LED streetlights, and pedestrian scale lighting. Local urban planning/design firms Melendrez and Troller Mayer Associates collaborated with Copenhagen’s Gehl Architects to produce what could be one of Los Angeles’ most innovative and truly urban streetscapes.
One of the plan’s most vocal opponents is Darryl Holter, who owns seven car dealerships along a stretch of the project adjacent to USC. Because of this opposition, and due to the results of an early city traffic study, cycle tracks were eliminated from the stretch from Venice to 23rd Street and another auto lane was added. Holter is still concerned that the project will make it harder for customers to reach his lots. The Southern California Auto Club, with its headquarters at the corner of Adams and Figueroa, has also expressed concerns about traffic impacts and a loss of street parking.
“We’re doing something that has never been done in Los Angeles before, and we’re doing it on a very trafficked street,” said Holter in a recent article.
District 9’s new councilmember, Curren Price, echoed concerned stakeholders like Holter, putting forward legislation that would require further “in-depth” traffic studies. This motion came as a surprise since the Council recently certified LA City Planning’s Final Environmental Impact Report, which includes traffic studies of the effected areas. At a recent session hosted by the Los Angeles chapter of the AIA, Price said, “Let’s not rush through it. Let’s make it a good deal for everybody.”
There has been speculation that this “everybody” is, in fact, Mr. Holter, who himself recently filed a hand-written appeal stating that “many businesses will be negatively impacted by the proposed project.” Holter was a supporter of Price during his election.
For the time being, Price’s motion and Holter’s appeal have yet to cause significant delay, and the project team is proceeding in anticipation that work will begin before January 2014. The City Attorney has recommended that both the motion and the appeal be reviewed together by the City Council’s Transportation Committee and then by a full City Council. Dates for this remain undetermined.
In its first major update since the 1980s, Minneapolis’ “main street” will attempt to build off an urban resurgence by dedicating a wavy, tree-lined promenade to three basic uses: live, work, and play.
City officials solicited proposals for Nicollet Mall earlier this year. About 140,000 employees currently use these 12 blocks of downtown daily, according to the city, so the design competition sought more than an update.
“We can either rebuild this street as a perfectly fine mediocre street,” said Mayor R.T. Rybak in a video for the city's website, “or we can build this as the great street that a great city deserves.”
The winning bid came from James Corner Field Operations — famous for their work on New York’s High Line, and London’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park — along with local firms Julie Snow Architects and Coen+Partners.
The project comes amid a wave of development downtown, including plans from Minneapolis-based UrbanWorks Architecture and Minnetonka-based Opus Development to replace a downtown parking structure with a cluster of high-rises. Rybak said he expects the Nicollet Mall redesign to continue that trend.
Nicollet Mall already counts among its public spaces Peavey Plaza—the M. Paul Friedberg “park plaza” that narrowly averted demolition after a preservationist lawsuit earlier this year.
Field Operations’ design turns the outdoor mall into more of a civic walk, James Corner told AN, connecting the city’s two epicenters of “nature and culture”: the Mississippi riverfront at the street’s northeast terminus, and the Chain of Lakes beginning at its southwest. Details will come after a series of public meetings; Corner said programming could vary block by block, while an overall design vocabulary would be consistent.
“We’ve got the good bones of a conceptual approach,” Corner said. “It is a great opportunity to create a great public space right through the heart of Minneapolis. There’s so many new businesses and users of Nicollet Mall that it should be the best it could be.”
A trench drain and porous pavement in parts reduce stormwater runoff, along with an underground retention basin and periodic plantings of oaks, elms, aspens, maples and birch trees. The street meanders along Nicollet Mall, creating varied spaces along each block and corner for programming. What goes in each space will depend on public input, Corner said, but will fit with one of three major themes.
“Work,” at the walk’s center, could feature widened sidewalks, newsstands and bike shelters, for example, while the “Play” zone between 11th and 12th streets would have space for public art and outdoor dining. Concepts for “Live,” nearest the Mississippi River, show social seating areas and a public fire pit.
“By working with the curvature, adapting it depending on what’s happening on each block, it creates a larger public space,” Corner said. “The strength of the curvilinearity is that it creates these wider public spaces.”
Numerous skyways connect the high-rises that line Nicollet Mall, but wayfinding between the walkways and the streets they overlook is currently a challenge, Corner said. The design team is investigating a color scheme—a “yellow ribbon” pattern, perhaps — to make connections more obvious. Similarly, conceptual renderings show “light beams” several stories high along the mall itself.
Mayor Rybak counted Target’s decision to locate their headquarters downtown as a victory for Minneapolis’ economic development. The retail giant hired Julie Snow Architects to carve out a “non-corporate” HQ from a former shoe-store at Nicollet Mall and South 10th Street. U.S. Bancorp, which owns U.S. Bank, also located its headquarters along Nicollet Mall.
Plans to expand light rail service in the area could encourage growth, Rybak said. The area is already home to the busiest bus stop in the state. Field Operations’ design leaves room for active transportation elements, and Corner said the team is investigating putting bike lanes in the middle of the street, separated from traffic.
Construction is scheduled to begin in 2015 with an expected completion date in 2016. The city will fund the project, which is expected to cost between $30 and $40 million, through a mix of state bonding and fees on private businesses along the street. The structure of those fees has not been determined.
Nelson/Nygaard, SRF Engineers, Tillotson Design Associates, Kestrel Design Group, and Cost Construction Services also contributed to the design proposal.
Now that Michael Bloomberg’s third and final term is about to end journalists and editors are rolling out scores of articles on his legacy and the future of Gotham. There is little question that during his mayoralty New York changed physically more than it had in many years and architects and designers were more influential than anytime since John Lindsay. The degree to which Bloomberg’s department heads like David Burney, Amanda Burden, and Janette Sadik-Khan made design an important aspect of physical growth and change is probably unprecedented in any American city at least since Robert Moses dominated development in New York. A major narrative in most of these articles is the uneven development that occurred during the period as most of these physical changes and improvements were concentrated in affluent Manhattan and the Brooklyn and Queens waterfronts—facing Manhattan. It is clear that most of the achievements of the period—like the High Line, the new parklets created on odd bits of left over streetscape along Broadway, designated bike lanes, and even bike sharing—were heavily weighted towards improving Manhattan and gentrified areas of Brooklyn and Queens. If one looks to areas like Brownsville, Crotona, or the Southeast Bronx, it is hard to find the Bloomberg initiatives having made little or any improvements to the streetscapes.
But not mentioned in these articles is the degree to which this administration marginalized (though this began under Rudolph Giuliani) the City Planning Commission, once a major player in development decisions and ensuring equity in planning. This neglect of official planning during the period may explain some of the more obvious blunders of the period, including the mayor’s half-baked, developer-focused 2030 plan; the ill-fated (but happily defeated) West Side Stadium proposal; and the disappointing high-rise development now taking place along the Brooklyn waterfront.
This is not to say that some planning was not undertaken during the Bloomberg era, such as the resiliency efforts highlighted in our feature story “The Nuanced Approach” points out. In fact, park and open space development is probably the most physically obvious transformation that took place in the last 11 1/2 years. The new Brooklyn Bridge and Governors Island Parks and the carefully detailed changes along Newtown Creek in Brooklyn and the Hudson River edge in Manhattan (though mostly financed through a structurally dubious private public partnership model embraced by the mayor) will take their place alongside the great Olmsted and Moses open spaces.
Galen Cranz points out in her writings on urban parks in America that the last time designers were involved in park design, the period she labels “the open space system” of the late 1950s through the 1970s, they primarily created plazas fronting corporate offices and did not always put the public in the foreground. Their spaces had mixed results as we can witness up and down Park Avenue. But in assessing open space design in the period one must also consider not just the security zone created around areas like Wall Street and the World Trade Center, but the reaction of the Bloomberg administration to the occupiers in Zuccotti Park, who were given some latitude to protest but were closely monitored and slowly pushed out of the area until the movement faded. Finally, one must consider The Gramsci Monument created this past summer by the Swiss artist Thomas Hirschhorn in the Forest Houses NYCHA project in the Morrisania section of the Bronx. In its collaborative design, Gramsci seemed to use space to fight back against the model of public space as a site for leisure, framing it as one where death and scission is encouraged and allowed to flourish. In the end, this may have been the most important new model of public space created during the Bloomberg era, and its strength was its opposition to the notion of parks as primarily sites of leisure, and its promotion of them as sites for discussion and protest—the kinds of spaces the city desperately needs today.