Tuesday, July 08, 2008

What's the Point?

So, which makes you want to stop and linger a while? This:

. . . 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.


Anonymous said...

Maybe Chicago can find some good inspiration in this waterside trail at Chile's Punta Pite?

Eric Allix Rogers said...

Wow, the condom analogy is terrific!

There's a spirited rebellion going on in the Hyde Park blogosphere, being led by the folks at Hyde Park Progress. They generally pooh-pooh anything that looks like preservation, though, so not too surprising. Still, they are right in insisting that *something* be done, or the damn thing is going to fall into the lake during some big storm.

Matt Maldre said...

You captured the essence of this very well. Concrete necklace, non-engaging, bicycle expressway. All so true. And so sad to see the beautiful inviting limestone go away.

It was always so baffling why the city and Army would want to do this, but you explained their cold-hearted reasons very well, and why you also captured why their reasons fall flat.

Isaac said...

First off I'll admit never having seen the water front prior to it's current concrete form, but I for one actually quite enjoy it. It seems to be highly utilized, with many bikers and joggers taking advantage of the opportunity to ride or jog in scenic area, uninterupted for miles, all within the city limits. I'll agree the concrete steps aren't as aesthetically pleasing, but they seem to blow away the previous iteration in terms of functionality.

I'd rather see a space that is highly utilized than a space that is under utilized but thought of fondly by nostalgic citizcens who visit the space once a year. Please don't take that as a personal attack as I certainly have no knowledge of your personal usage of the chicago waterfront.

Anonymous said...

The city of Chicago and the US Army Corp of Engineers sought the least expensive option with no regard for aesthetics or history when they "designed" the featureless concrete ribbon along the Lake Michigan shoreline from Fullerton to Montrose. (In fact, sections needed to be entirely rebuilt immediately after construction because of sub-par concrete that was cracking from seasonal changes.) As a 20 year resident of the Lakeview neighborhood familiar with the historic shoreline, I find our "new" lakefront to be harsh and unwelcoming. Unfortunately, with Alderman Tunney obeying the whims of city hall, we lack the political clout of the Hyde Park neighborhood. I applaud the efforts of the residents of Hyde Park and hope they continue to resist having their lakefront turned into a concrete monstrosity.

Anonymous said...

I understand that the concrete is bland etc. However, it really is functional. If you go there on a Sturday, you will see thatpeople are sitting, walking, laying out there. It also relives teh congestion from teh bike bath as walkers perefr to walk on the shore. While I don't think the entire lakehore should be covered with concrete, in some areas, it works well by creating a safe clean area for residents.

mikel1814 said...

The issue is also making it accesible to people in wheelchairs or with other disabilities that make the crooked, broken uneven rocks impossible to maneuver.

It might be sterile, and perhaps there could be a different solution, but the lakefront should be enjoyed by everyone.

Lynn Becker said...

Unfortunately, ADA compliance has too often become a bludgeon bureaucrats have come to depend on to ramrod mediocre design. The answer to challenges to access to something unique is not, as the bureaucrats would have you believe, to make it puerile and generic for everyone. If I remember correctly, some of the counter-proposals for Promontory Point figured out a way to make it accessible without wrecking the whole into empty banality.

Anonymous said...

that picture of prom. point must have been "flipped".

it's dawn, and for the sun to appear that far North in the sky, it must be winter--- but there are still leaves on the trees.

Mostly likely the picture was taken looking south in the summer (where the rocks would have been on the right side of the picture), but the image was flipped.

Anonymous said...

If it had anything to do with bike traffic they easily just could have paved a sidewalk along the top of the rocks. The rocks functioned as a beautiful breakwater that if you wanted to sit on or climb on you could. It’s not like the water is any more accessible now. It’s a 10 foot steal wall. Now no one has access to the water. It looks like the industrial walls along the dirty parts of the Chicago River. They've made it into a bland repetitive sidewalk which gives people no reason to stop and enjoy the lake.

There are still the great rocks at the point at Diversey. They are the last part of the once great Belmont rocks. I really hope they never take that point away. It’s the one spot around there left that I can still go to and peacefully think and imagine.

Although, I am worried about the point because on Feb 12th 2009 I was there and there were orange dots paints every hundred feet or so along the tops of the rocks. I hope if they have any stupid ideas for the point that the citizens will rise up to protect & cherish this beautiful landscape. The areas along the lake that still retain the rocks are the areas that still retain world class charm.