Monday, April 4, 2011

Does the South Loop Need a Master Plan?

A couple of weeks ago we read about a recent master plan that was created for Lakeview. Although it wasn't the most revolutionary or enlightening document we've ever seen, we're sure it's valuable for their neighborhood. After all, long term planning and vision is critical for any business, country, state, city, etc to be viable in the future.


Although the build-up in and around the South Loop was a major emphasis of the city, the question remains what else can be done at the local level to improve the neighborhood?


Back in 2009 we did a couple posts about the Central Area Action Plan which was a large scale city planning document. Although this was a great vision, it seems broad and didn't really discuss specifics. With that in mind we're unaware of any other local documents that have been created to guide the future of the neighborhood (if there are please post a comment). Regardless, we're curious to hear people's thoughts on the subject.


  • What ideas do you have that could make our neighborhood better?

  • How can we encourage businesses to open up shop in the neighborhood?

  • How do we get residents to spend more in the neighborhood?

  • How do we get residents from other neighborhoods to come to the South Loop?

  • What does the South Loop need (types of stores, restaurants, etc)?

  • How can we create events that differentiates our neighborhood from others?

These are just some broad questions to think about. There are definitely more and feel free to post your questions/solutions/ideas in the comments section.


These questions came to mind after we recently spoke to a business owner on South Michigan avenue. He was concerned about the retail/business scene of South Michigan (i.e. - all of recent businesses closing and all of the vacant retail spaces). Although our discussion was brief, it got us thinking of ideas specifically for Michigan Avenue south of Roosevelt.


Our "higher-profile" sibling on the north side is much more glamorous. It's one of the more famous shopping districts in the world (rightfully so). They have world rennowned stores, large scale parades, amazing landscaping, beautiful flowers, and those famous holiday lights. Is there anything that could happen down on our side of Michigan Avenue that would be a consistent big draw or a way to "brand" the neighborhood?


Personally I'm a huge fan of dramatic lighting (see our posts on the beautiful lighting at the Scout and where Trader Joe's is coming in). Could we get all businesses to invest in dramatic, unique lighting on South Michigan (or all around the neighborhood)? Could our neighborhood be the neighborhood of light (think of Paris as inspiration)? Although this seems like it could be hard to pull off, the South Loop needs some radical, unique thinking. We need our neighborhood to rally around a concept and be the "neighborhood of _____".


Anyway, that's just one idea and who knows if it's feasible. Regardless sound off and let us know your ideas. Maybe the lighting idea is crazy, but we want to hear your ideas.

42 comments:

Anonymous said...

I'd love to see more restaurants, especially those with well-done patio dining- I am always dranw to neighborhoods and areas that utilize the outdoor space. I also think the S.Loop is sorely lacking a great coffee joint with seating (although perhaps the new coffee shop that recently opened can help fill that void). I find myself wishing we had a great bakery for the weekend breakfast/paper run. I love the South Loop and won't be leaving anytime soon, but those are thing I find myself wishing for. Finally, where there are empty lots (ahem, the huge hole just South of the former Ole' Hardwood) - I desperately wish the owners would keep them up, or at least mend the fabric barriers that were attached to the fencing.

Anonymous said...

Absolutely the South Loop needs a master plan... it's a shame that this didn't happen in the 80's before the development boom.
Here’s some ideas:
1. Close Dearborn from Polk to Harrison and make it pedestrian-only. Utilize Federal and Plymouth to provide access.
2. Create a real bicycle-friendly neighborhood. Construct raised and protected bicycle lanes on the main thoroughfares (Clark, State, Wabash, Michigan, Indiana, 9th, Roosevelt, 16th, 18th, Cermak. The overall goal is to de-empathize vehicle use in the south loop all together.
3. Replace the dying ash trees throughout the south loop with sustainable shade-creating trees and add more landscaping on the sidewalks.
4. Install emergency call stations throughout the neighborhood, similar to what you see on college campuses.
5. Prevent the open land west of Clark Street to be developed and create a sprawling nature-themed parkland for the city.

Anonymous said...

NO! The grid is there, use it, and in the case of the former rail yard land, run the grid back into it. Master Plans lead to sterilization and suburbanization, just look at the blemish that is Dearborn Park. It effectively walls off the South Loop like a medevil fortress.

Anonymous said...

Check your history! Dearborn Park is the catylist of the South Loop... without this development, the South Loop would be much less residential today!
Additionally, Clark Street has always been a dividing wall and an expressway because of the Rock island train tracks.

MASTER PLANS PREVENT SUBURBINIZATION!!!

Anonymous said...

I would love to see SOMETHING happen here. Dearborn between Polk and Harrison could be such a great little area, but there are so many empty stores. Why? I've only lived here for about 1.5 years, and there doesn't seem to be much growth.

Granted, Trader Joe's will be nice.

I love the lighting idea! Although, that's partially because I think the crime around Polk and State is getting out of control (especially in the Polk auxiliary exit).

Anonymous said...

The South Loop suffers from its creation after the dawn of the automobile. What makes most great Chicago neighborhoods great are active sidewalk/retail scenes and narrow streets. South Loop is for a major part, simply a thoroughfare for outsiders to get to the loop.
Not only should Dearborn be closed and sidewalks enlarged, but Clark should be 2-way traffic all the way to Congress. Master planning can make arterials where they should go, and leave slow car traffic and pedestrian friendliness where it should go. All of the streets in the South loop are wide and car focused. Until we want that shift toward pedestrian traffic, it will always be a half-baked urban residential neighborhood.

Sloopy said...

Personally our favorite "big" idea for the South Loop is to pave over dearborn between polk and harrison.

Here is a post we did on the subject: http://www.sloopin.com/2010/07/make-dearborn-pedestrian-street.html

How dow we make this happen?

Brian said...

I think that Dearborn Park, while delightfully quiet for its residents, is a physical and mental wall. The development makes Printer's Row feel isolated from the rest of the South Loop. There needs to be a way to better incorporate the park into the surrounding areas.

Anonymous said...

Dearborn Park is a terrific pedestrian and bicycle neighborhood thanks to the "vehicle wall" that was created around it. Don't forget what the south loop looked like in the 70's & 80's, a haven for crime and littered with abandoned buildings. Dearborn Park I & II were the first residential developments in the area which had to be designed amongst difficult surroundings. At the time the best solution was to encapsulate itself from the "drive-thru" traffic that makes a neighborhood more dangerous. Today, this little portion of the south loop is a literal baby farm filled with growing families, a top notch public school, and wonderful accessible parks for everyone.

This is the neighborhood design we should be following: Design around people not vehicles!

Anonymous said...

"At the time the best solution was to encapsulate itself from the "drive-thru" traffic that makes a neighborhood more dangerous."

Yea sure, but today it is an outdated design and it's not easily accessible for outside pedestrians. Would be great if that changes.

SouthLoopScot said...

My only complaint about Dearborn Park I, is that it should be open for pedestrian traffic between Clark and State at 9th. I'd prefer Printer's Row to be a pedestrian only area as well. As it stands now, it's mainly a means for taxi's to get from Michigan or State to go north. Not to mention the fact they have very little regard for pedestrians at the intersection of Polk and Dearborn.

Anonymous said...

I have lived in Printers Row for 11 years, and the last few have been the toughest retail wise, and I don't understand why. Once Gourmand/Mediterra closed it left a HUGE whole. And that place has always been packed. The space next to it, in the my 11 years has been a pet shop/movie rental place, interior design showroom, dog groomer, then ANOTHER dog groomer (You would think someone would open the same kinda store in the same space that failed). ENOUGH WITH THE DOG GROOMING! Open an Ice Cream shop, or another Coffee shop! How about a gift shop?? I have heard from various sources that the spaces are just too expensive to rent. Guess the owners make more writing it off as a loss, than actually trying to FILL the space.

Also, Why hasn't more been down with the actual Dearborn Station? That space should be filled with great stuff! I think a daycare center would be awesome!

Anonymous said...

Right now the neighborhood seems disjointed; you have the Polk/Dearborn area, Dearborn Park and the rest of the area to the East and South.

Changes, I'd love to see more pedestrian friendly streets, sidewalks and businesses in the neighborhood.

Would it help the neighborhood? I hope so. I've been living here 5 years and keep trying to like the 'hood but long to be in active, vibrant neighborhood where I see crowded sidewalks and fewer empty storefronts. We need more restaurants and bars with sidewalk cafes, more retail stores (gifts, books, clothing, toys, hair salons, accessories, flower shops, a bakery, etc.) It would be great to see second locations of already popular businesses from other neighborhoods that have an established following. Take South Coast for example, people who've lived or have friends in Bucktown know the name and what you're getting.

Right now I completely agree that the Sloop is "a half-baked urban residential neighborhood". Just like in the 'burbs it is easier to jump in my car to go to another neighborhood to shop or eat than find somewhere to go in our 'hood. The addition of some of the big box stores keep me closer to home but not spending money with local businesses.

Cherise said...

1. Please don't put more doomed, half-assed concept buildings on the parcels immediately south of River City. Green space would be much nicer, from both the Wells/Roosevelt perspectives and from the river. A plot for community-supported agriculture, perhaps?

2. I'd love to see an art gallery fill some of the empty retail.

3. The nicer lighting idea is great, as is the bicycle-friendly idea.

4. Cleaning up the Harrison/Polk Red Line stop would make a more pleasant welcome to the neighborhood. I actually like the Columbia College art/poetry concept, but it could use a refresher.

5. Get the area colleges to take some responsibility for their students littering the sidewalks outside the buildings with cigarette butts (here's lookin' at you, Columbia/Dwight Lofts). These messes drag down the entire neighborhood.

6. Find a way to develop and implement some neighborhood branding. Other neighborhoods in Chicago have welcoming signage and banners -- can anyone think of any thriving South Loop businesses that might be willing to sponsor some?

Anonymous said...

Creative lighting concepts on buildings are a great way to highligh a structure's exterior details and enliven the surrounding area. Just make sure that the lights are not shining up towards the sky as we need to reduce light pollution in this bright city.

stargazers & birds will thank you

Anonymous said...

Love the ideas everyone has.

I definitely second the wish for more shops, coffee shops, and restaurants. But that means more money spent to support the shops.

As more people move to fill in the empty housing units, we'll get more critical mass for supporting the local shops.

When development resumes in a couple of years, hopefully the city, developers, and the community recognize the need for density near transit hubs (i.e. taller buildings near the El stops for people who don't want to have cars and can walk to the EL/neighborhood shops. And lower buildings further away for people who are more car-focused.)

And locate retail near that residential density/transit. (I love that we have a whole foods just across the river, but I still need to drive. Really excited about having a Trader Joe's within walking distance!)

I think we have something special with the South Loop: variety of housing options (high rises, row houses, industrial lofts), proximity to park/lake, transit (el, buslines,and highways), supermarkets, gyms, etc.

Anonymous said...

I also like the idea of having Printer's Row as pedestrian-only. It would make a better location for the Sloop's summer neighboorhood festival.

I think starting with finishing the south of end of Michigan from approx 8th St to 16th should be done first. It is the most visible thoroughfare and, if full of retail/restaurants/residences, it would draw more pedestrian traffic southward past Roosevelt.

There needs to be something done w/ the high visiblity SE corner of Roosevelt & Mich. Unfortunately, since it is owned by Museum Park it will likely remain vacant until housing market rebounds and they can build their 2 proposed remaining high-rises. I fear this will be an uninviting eyesore for yrs to come.

Finally, the empty retail spots and the abandoned bldgs south of Roosevelt on Michigan need to be occupied. Not to mention the "restaurant row" we had going on 13th and Wabash is looking pretty anemic & uninviting nowadays. I would almost rather have seen an empty high rise instead of the abandoned lots south of Zapatista's.

Anonymous said...

I would love to see the traffic slowed or limited on Wabash. Its just too crazy around roosevelt and that stop sign at 13th for people to really enjoy walking and that's where the restaurants are right now. The creation of more bike lanes.

We definitely need more retail, restaurants, and night life. I think the problem is our prices have remained too high and businesses can't move in. I cannot understand why a developer would prefer an empty storefronts to lower prices.

I would love to see a bookstore further south. We need real shopping, which I was happy to see Marshalls move in but I'm still waiting for the Roosevelt collection to materialize. I would love to see a few more night spots materialize.

As far as festivals or other events, i think we should build on our strengths and have them focus on art/music and other creative pursuits.

Anonymous said...

oh and as for why people don't stay and spend more is because there is nothing to increase foot traffic. When I go out to dinner in Wicker Park or Bucktown, I can stroll right down to an interesting bar/night spot and peek into windows of interesting shops. In South loop there are interesting places, but everything is spread out such that on foot each place is a destination in itself and you aren't likely to go from south coast sushi up to wabash tap. You have to wade through blocks of emptiness.

I do like the light idea. Well lit areas are more pedestrian friendly and generally safer for walking at night. We would just want to make sure that there was something unique during the day too. so that there is something for everyone

Anonymous said...

Agree with Anon 11:15am. I live in the South end of the South Loop, and we'll walk 8-10 blocks or more to go out to eat, and then after we're always like what now because there really aren't many options between there and home.

I really want a beer garden South of Roosevelt. I would ask whatever happened with Flo and Santos taking over the lot next to them, but I don't really want a beer garden next to an eL track.

Anonymous said...

oh and as for why people don't stay and spend more is because there is nothing to increase foot traffic. When I go out to dinner in Wicker Park or Bucktown, I can stroll right down to an interesting bar/night spot and peek into windows of interesting shops. In South loop there are interesting places, but everything is spread out such that on foot each place is a destination in itself and you aren't likely to go from south coast sushi up to wabash tap. You have to wade through blocks of emptiness.

I do like the light idea. Well lit areas are more pedestrian friendly and generally safer for walking at night. We would just want to make sure that there was something unique during the day too. so that there is something for everyone

Marinauser said...

It is nice to have "want" lists and to dream. However, everyone forgets that Lincoln Park, Bucktown and Wicker Park have been residential areas for far longer than the South Loop which was still mostly commercial and vacant commercial buildings until about 7 years ago. I have lived in the South Loop since 1990. Sometimes I miss the quiet, the easy parking and the fewer dogs of 1995. But that won't come back just like restaurants and retail won't come just because someone wishes for it. If you want a coffee shop, ice cream, or a gift shop, then take the risk and open one. Otherwise, it just comes across as whining. I expect that should you do such a study, what you would learn is that there just is not enough of a day time population in the south loop yet to support most such businesses. Even Target is not enough of a draw to pull other retail into Roosevelt Collection. Let's face it, we all work including many of the spouses. That is why there are several day care / pre-school businesses that seem to be thriving.

Dennis McClendon said...

The Near South Community Plan was adopted by the Plan Commission in May 2004 after five years of work by South Loop Neighbors and Greater South Loop Association. It's online.

Anonymous said...

Hey Sloopin - maybe you could sponsor a South Loop Design Contest, gather local architects to submit their ideas for the empty rail yard land west of Clark. It could be a good buzz generator and unleash some idle architectural talent thats wasting away riding out the recession / depression.

SouthLoopScot said...

"Otherwise, it just comes across as whining."

Did you ever consider that prospective business investors/owners might look at this and other blogs like it to get a feel for what might work here in the Sloop?

There's plenty of people that don't work in the daytime. But you probably wouldn't know that since you are at work. I don't work the traditional 9-5 and I see plenty of people out and about. It's just a matter of time, before we see more investment. In my opinion Trader Joe's is a great sign of things to come.

Anonymous said...

I've lived in the South Loop since 2007 and I've walked through most of the South Loop except Dearborn Park. Every time I walk to Target and endure the dreaded narrow Roosevelt sidewalk, I see a nice lush open green space below. I rather walk through that green space instead of walking amongst automobiles on Roosevelt. They need to open that place up. Yeah, I know, they walled themselves up to keep out the nasties of the 80's. Newsflash, it’s 2011 and even Central Station lets anyone walk on their sidewalks!

Butler Bulldogs said...

Mr. McClendon, while the Near South Community Plan is good if it were followed and put into an action plan, part of the problem is that organizations that you indicate like the Greater South Loop Association and Near South Planning Board have NOT adopted the plan as your posts indicates.

Residents time and time again know that these organizations are fighting tooth an nail to do most things counter to the recommendations of the Near South Community Plan for personal gain and conflicts of interests when it is expedient.

You won't find the Lincoln park plan telling residents that High Rises are the only way to density as these dolts continously harp on down here.

At the same time the TIF money is available for many of the planned projects but responsible parties are dragging their feet to implement, and soon that money will be gone.

Anonymous said...

A plan adopted in 2004. It seems nice but who is in charge of ensuring its implementation. Perhaps its time to revisit and revise.

Anonymous said...

A lot of these comments are petty and dont address the issues. I really enjoy the south loop and have lived here for 4 years. But it is getting harder and harder to see the sustained growth.

One of the big issues is that the south loop is new development. With the new development came making enough room for parking. Everyone is driving out of our neighborhood to shop/eat, etc. If I want to go to and Office Supplies store I have to drive to it. If I want to go to Target I drive there. Movies...drive. Shopping... Best Buy, Marshals, World Market...drive.

Roosevelt Collection has planned for enough parking, so when/if retail ever moves in people will just drive there.

These shopping complex's are not healthy for our neighborhood. By not creating foot traffic the coffee shops, ice cream parlors will not open and shouldn't open if they do their market analysis. Foot traffic is everything.

Even Trader Joe's is investing millions into a parking structure, they know nobody walks in this neighborhood.

Roosevelt Road needs to become more pedestrian friendly. Maybe elevated cross walks at Michigan and State.

Lets get behind something and rally for it to happen. Lets become more active in the community.

Anonymous said...

I would also suggest revisiting the green line el stop at 18th street. There is a serious lack of transportation in that part of the south loop which discourages folks from moving into those high rises further south.

Anonymous said...

Outside of the second comment there are no real "master plan" ideas here. Sloopin should get a student competition going for a master plan at UIC and/or SAIC. Actual architects would charge for something like that.

Anonymous said...

Anon 9:46 AM, YOU are making the decision to drive. I have a parking spot. I have a car. The places I go have places to park, but I make the decision not to drive. You can do the same. Just because the infrastructure supports it, doesn't mean you have to use it.

Anonymous said...

I agree that developments need to be more pedestrian-friendly-- look at the Target on Roosevelt. The sidewalk on the Clark side is so narrow it's ridiculous.

But I disagree that "nobody" walks in the South Loop. I've lived just west of Printer's Row for about 7 years without a car, and it's not only possible, it's preferable not to have a car. With car-sharing services like iGo I can use a car when I need it, and not have the hassles of maintenance, etc. And when I do walk to shop, there are always lots of other people on the sidewalk with me, carrying shopping bags or with carts.

For those south of Roosevelt, this is more of an issue, especially if you get south of 14th Street or so. I originally lived at 21st and Wabash, from 2000-03, but moved further north when I realized development wasn't going to happen as fast as I wanted down there, and I definitely wanted to lose the car.

What I don't understand is all the people I meet who say they hardly ever use their car-- then why own one?? Seems like a big waste of money to me.

Anonymous said...

Absolutely, I make the decision to drive. Along with most others. Someone mentioned that people do walk...really?

True the South Loop is a very large neighborhood. Three times the size of the Loop. But I am more focused on the South Loop south of Roosevelt(sorry for my prejudice)but this is where I live. I would consider the area north of Roosevelt in good shape... pedestrians, shops, nightlife, etc.

South of Roosevelt is the newer developments and where we are lacking in transportation, nightlife, restaurants, shopping. One person walking by every five minutes is not foot traffic. I look out my window and see all these new high rises. Most of them well occupied and yet I see no-one walking around. If you go to the west loop or west town you will see what foot traffic for a newer area looks like.

Like I said lets pick a project/topic and all rally around it. Im all for fundraising and etc.

Yes, we should move the bash on wabash to printers row and call is something else.

BColeKid said...

There are too many dreary walks around the Sloop towards the new developments on Roosevelt. I think there was a second phase to the RC Plan, so I don't know the reasoning of building a mammoth structure that is closed off to Printer's Row, except for a two story staircase that will be opened someday (and the secret elevator off of Wells). Elevated Roosevelt is a problem. A bridge connecting Polk across the river at street level would be nice. Better incorporating Dearborn Park along Roosevelt and Clark would be nice too. Some forward-thinking for once. Is that too much to ask?

Anonymous said...

The South Loop needs more branding. We have really nice light posts down S Michigan Ave with rods sticking out of them for banners, and there has never been any installed. I think local businesses should sponsor a banner and then get they're name printed on it along with some type of South Loop logo, much like other neighborhoods like Lincoln Park, Lakeview, etc. I know this is something very small in contrast to larger issues at hand, but it can add some color to the streets and support local businesses.

Sloopin should sponsor a South Loop logo contest, where everyone can contribute ideas to what would be the perfect logo to represent and symbolize the South Loop.

Allen said...

Sloopin Ticker -- Art Gallery opening next to Tapas Valencia soon....Last day to sign-up for Monkey Bar Gym April 23rd Party is today and go to Whole Foods and buy 2nd Annual South Loop Movie Festival ($10) tix for Apr 28th.

BColeKid said...

I like the logo idea. Anyone for a little momentum?

Anonymous said...

In my dream world a developer would buy the empty lots just south of ole-hardwood all the way from the wabash side to the michagan side and build a walk-through plaza with shops and restaurants. It was provide a central meeting place for people in the area to go for food/entertainment and socializing. A few years ago, the Sundance group was going to build a Sundance theater in the West Loop but the deal went sour, but as the South Loop has a richer history in film, it would be better placed down in these parts. It makes me sad to think that this is all just a dream....

Kyle said...

Great blog post and conversation starter.

1) Everyone needs to read The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs.

2) A master plan needs to provide guiding principles not rigid edicts on aesthetics (thats for the suburbs). Bike Friendly would be a great first step. And integrating Dearborn Park would also be high on the list. Growth will come for south of Roosevelt, its a matter of how it comes.

3) Unfortunately right now the South Loop functions a bit like a suburb because it is mostly residential and people leave the area to go to work.

3) To combat number 2, we need a healthy mix of business types. If we just import restaurants and high-end retail, we won't become a neighborhood, just a destination.

4) Leverage what we have. The Museum Campus and Soldier Field are right next door. How can we add businesses to capitalize on these tremendous assets.

5) Neighborhood identity needs to come residents. We don't want some outsiders coming in with some corporate scheme and telling us what our neighborhood should be.

Anonymous said...

Please, no more street banners until the unsightly ones hung by the Central Station developer are removed. Torn, tattered, and ripped lightpost banners claiming 'welcome to central station' have been hanging (by a thread!) along 16th and Prairie for YEARS. Their condition worsens every year, and nobody does anything about it. These banners are an immense eyesore when not properly maintained.

Anonymous said...

The south loop need a marquee festival with music, food, etc. Something like a block party or taste of the south loop, maybe a wine festival. A marquee festival would bring hype to the south loop from outside neighborhoods and could possible bring more business to the south loop from other neighborhoods. Every other neighborhood that I hear mentioned on sloopin has something like this for example Lincoln Parks art and music festival.