Tuesday, July 08, 2008
What's the Point?
. . . or this?
The first photo is of the lakefront south of Diversey. The second is from a series of handsome photos of Promontory Point by Lee Bey that he's recently posted on his great Urban Observer blog.
The Diversey style has become of standard for renovation of Chicago's lakefront revetment, and it was what the city and Army Corp of Engineers had proposed for Promontory Point a decade ago. When, for some unfathomable reasons, South side residents rose up in rebellion at that plan, the city presented a "compromise" that entailed reproducing the limestone rocks in concrete. Same, same, no? There have been further redesigns that would now retain some of the rocks, coupled to universal access to the Point, but the changes remain so radical that community opposition remains unabated. The Point was on Landmarks Illinois 2004 "Most Endangered" list and Preservation Chicago's 2006 "Chicago Seven"
Late last year, Congress passed a bill funding a proposal backed by Cong. Jesse Jackson, Jr. and Senator Barack Obama for a third party study of renovating the Point in a manner consistent with national preservation standards.
At first glance, you can see how the solution seen in the first photo would appeal to bureaucrats. It's clean and simple- simplistic, actually - universally accessible, easy to maintain and probably beloved by the city's liability lawyers. It's great uninterrupted sweep makes a striking first impression. After that, however, you realize that's there's absolutely nothing else to engage your interest. It's an expressway for moving bicycles and people with the least possible resistance, a giant stretched condom sheathing the observer from any conception of the natural intersection of water and land. Like the design for a children's museum in Grant Park, it is both relentlessly efficient and fatally devoid of the poetry of good urban design. This is one case where efficiency kills, choking the natural wonder of the lake in a concrete necklace.
You can see from his original 1937 design for the Point that Alfred Caldwell had clear and creative answers on how to mediate city and lake. Too often, our current planners don't even seem to realize that there's a question.
(Click on time for permalink) 10:15 PM