Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Central Area Action Plan: South West Loop Part 1

As we posted a couple of weeks ago, Chicago has recently unveiled a plan for many neighborhoods in the downtown area. Many of these plans affect various areas of the Sloop and as a result we are going to have some posts over the next couple of weeks looking into these changes. Some of the changes are already underway, but most are plans that could happen sometime before 2020. Will they happen? Who knows, but it's still good to consider.

South West Loop - Part 1
This area is bound by Congress Pkwy on the north, 16th street on the south, the Chicago River on the east and the Dan Ryan Expressway on the west. This area has gone through some drastic changes and continues to evolve. Although there isn't much residential living in this small area, it has developed as a major center for 'big box' retailers such as Best Buy, Whole Foods, Home Depot, World Market, Bed Bath & Beyond, and so on.

These stores are in a good position to serve various neighborhoods south of the downtown core. Some of the neighborhoods this area serves are Printer's Row, South Loop, Near South Side, Pilsen, Chinatown, Little Italy, West Loop, University Village and the UIC Campus.

The plan calls for two 'signature streets' at Congress and Roosevelt:
Congress Parkway
Two major issues we see with this. First, the old post office is a behemoth. Many, many, many developers have proposed ways to transform this property, but nothing has actually happened. We've read about casinos, hotels, office space and most recently a mixed use development. It seems like they should figure this out before planning to many improvements to this area.

Second, Congress Parkway is essentially a major highway which doesn't lend itself well to pedestrian traffic. This plan tries to address some of this, but in our opinion Congress simply can't be a pedestrian friendly street. Hopefully we're wrong, but we have yet to see something that convinces us otherwise. Can anyone think of any major streets in Chicago that would pose as a template for making Congress pedestrian friendly? Michigan? Wacker?

The stretch of Roosevelt road from Michigan Avenue to the Chicago River in our opinion is a great example of a major road being beautifully transformed. Although we're not entirely sure about the city's plans for their other proposed 'signature streets', in our mind this stretch is what they should copy. With that said, we envision an extension of these improvements west towards the Dan Ryan Expressway.

The one thing we are unsure about is the red asterisks on the graphic above that is labeled "gateway feature". Will that be some sort of sign designating the area (similar to Old Town or Boys Town or Chinatown)? That's our guess, but not entirely sure.

Additional Thoughts
One of the consistent things and bigger initiatives for the central area action plan is continuing the river walk so that it extends down the south branch of the Chicago River. In our opinion this is a great idea. We've frequently walked down Wacker and truly enjoy being on the river. However, this idea is pretty ambitious and probably something that the city doesn't really need until other issues are solved (schools etc.). We can dream, though.

So what do you think? Is this necessary? good urban planning? a waste?

(images from Central Area Action Plan)


Anonymous said...

One thing for sure, the city needs to put more pressure on developers to respect pedestrians. The Walgreens south of Roosevelt as well as the strip mall/Dominicks's is an appallingly major setback to any attempts to make this area a desirable gateway to downtown.

The southgate market (Whole Foods, etc) is a big improvement, although I'm still not convinced the site layout could not have been even better, especially with there still being a large parking lot along Roosevelt.

If the city wants to improve these areas, one step is to put a stop to this kind of development, and perhaps even try to undo the damage by pressuring the owners of these properties to redevelop them (which probably will not happen for decades).

Me said...

I wonder if this includes that huge undeveloped track of land between Roosevelt and 16th street. At one point an IKEA was going in and a huge residential development. That didn't pan out, but I still wonder what the plan for the city.

Sloopy said...

I agree that Southgate market and the new Joffco square is a step up from dominicks. I will be interested to see how roosevelt collection pans out. Out of all the big development on roosevelt, this seems the most intriquing to me.

Me, I haven't read much about what is going to happen on that big piece of land from a commercial or residential standpoint, but the city does talk about some of the public work initiatives for this land on the central area plan (river walk, parks, etc.)