Some words from acclaimed Chicago Tribune architecture critic Blair Kamin in his recent piece, “West Side story: A new park, with dynamic geometry and bold interactivity, creates an urban oasis amid wall-to-wall condos,” prompt me to write again about the current proposal on the table for the Logan Square public plaza and orchard (also see Post-public meeting on the Logan Square public plaza).
Kamin’s words about a new West Loop park and its design process:
ran a good process;
didn’t impose their design;
polled neighbors on their preferences;
evoking rather than erasing the (character);
passing through a series of enticing entrances;
validate my thoughts and raise some anger about the process and proposal for this Logan Square site. As a planner, it’s inconceivable to me that no alternatives have been considered. Meanwhile, in another neighborhood there has been a thoughtful and (neighborhood) engaging process to come up with the right solution.
I have heard and read suggestions from others for total open green space, a plaza with niches for vendors, a sculpture garden, a playground, miniature golf or other games venues, a summer beer garden or Gallery 37 type program with a winter ice rink.
New York and San Francisco have had recent successes with public space by experimenting with dimensions and moveable furniture prior to making a commitment to one idea or another.
You may have wondered why the St. Louis arch, the virtual garden and other images are included in this post. I’ve attempted to evoke my own ideas that I’ve shared in previous comments. They are not the precise images that convey what I’ve suggested. They are modern and classic, natural and manufactured. They are meant to allow and inspire you to imagine different possibilities for arches or an arcade, for a greenhouse with a café (I’m really liking the container greenhouse), and for what I think is my best idea, a sound garden. To that point, I’ve also included a couple of videos to assist in imagining a sound garden.
Forgive me where I repeat what I’ve written on this blog before or what I spoke at the public meeting.
This is not the place
The proposed orchard will fence off and prohibit public access to part of a vital commercial corridor. Milwaukee Avenue is the commercial center, the spine of our neighborhood, where there should be the highest concentration of buildings and people.
Commerce and trade are the very reason for the existence of cities. Cities formed for the purpose of facilitating trade.
One important responsibility of the city is good design that supports the urban form, the grid, small blocks, coherent architectural patterns, buildings instead of vacant lots (parking or planted). This is one of the strengths of the city, and what you might call its “unique selling proposition.”
We already have the square itself, the Paseo Prairie Garden, the desolate concrete of the CTA station. Any additional open space must be active and inviting space to contribute to the vitality of the commercial strip.
People like a sense of enclosure that comes from being surrounded by a continuous street wall. But, including this proposal, the span of Milwaukee Avenue without two opposing street walls would be about 1/4 mile.
Typically, people are only inclined to walk about a 1/4 mile to various neighborhood amenities and facilities. But that distance is greater the more there is to look at and interact with, like shop windows.
That’s one of the reasons just north of the square that banks cannot be closer than 600 feet to each other: because their blank walls don’t provide the needed interaction for passers-by. Similarly, that’s why shop windows are supposed to be 60% transparent, so that there’s something for pedestrians to look at.
That’s why big box stores like those on Elston Avenue don’t work for a walkable community. With only one or two entrances over the equivalent of a city block, they don’t offer any opportunity for people to interact with the building and its purpose in the spaces in between.
The rationale for these rules and practices is sound. They enhance foot traffic; they enhance commerce and exchange; they enhance liveability.
That is why any place on this commercial corridor must be well-designed and inviting to the public, and not just on an occassional basis. Any proposal that fences out people on a regular basis cannot achieve that.
New businesses, at last, continue to crop up on Milwaukee Avenue. It would be counterproductive to create a passive space that could harm their success, whether through diminished foot traffic or an inability to manage the space.
Regarding management of the space, the most effective and least costly means is to keep the area vital, active and populated so that there are watchful eyes. Again, any proposal that fences out people cannot achieve that.
I presume Tax Increment Financing (TIF) funds have already been used and will be used some more for any proposal that is accepted. But it would be counterproductive to use TIF funds toward a passive space that would not contribute to the vitality and economic development of the district, which is the purpose of the TIF district.
The value of the transportation hub we have just north of the square with trains, buses, and a parking lot, is also diminished by additional passive open space.
From an urban planning perspective, the above is why the orchard proposal does not work. The perspective of a locavore is probably different. But let’s first consider and agree on the objectives of the space.
Engaging the neighborhood in the process to imagine a future for this space is the minimum required.
The next public meeting should be “what else?”