Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Did Dearborn Park Have to be a Walled Off Community?

Love it or hate it, Dearborn park is a core component of the South Loop as it literally sits in the middle of our neighborhood. As some know, there were two phases to the development of the greater Dearborn Park area.

Dearborn Park 1, which was built in the 70's, runs from Clark on the West, Polk on the North, State on the East and Roosevelt on the South. It's sister property, Dearborn Park 2, extends South past Roosevelt all the way down to 18th street (the west and east borders remain the same).

This video from YoChicago raises an interesting question, Could Dearborn Park have been the South Loop's savior without also blighting it?

Essentially the argument is that back in the 70's Dearborn park had to be built the way it was (walled off from the area) to alleviate safety concerns for potential residents. Fast forward to today and the neighborhood is a completely different place. While there are some safety concerns (similar to most other neighborhoods close to the Loop), it's a much safer area with a burgeoning retail scene.

Many people we have talked to detest the closed off nature of these developments and how they disrupt the "city grid". But the question remains, was dearborn park one of the first steps into making the South Loop a viable residential neighborhood? and if so was it necessary to build a walled community?

What are your thoughts?

(video from


Anonymous said...

I know the guy from YoChicago said 18th in his video, but Dearborn Park II only goes down to 15th.

I hate how Dearborn Park I looks while walking down State St. Actually I don’t really like how it looks on the inside either. Most of those white buildings look like they could be housing projects. I think the grid system in Chicago is great and it is important to keep it as open as possible, but in the case of Dearborn Park I & II I think it was worth messing up the grid. The grid in this area is going to be messed up anyway, because of the river and railroad tracks. Plus I don’t think there is any denying that these two developments have played a crucial role in the development of the South Loop and continue to be highly desirable areas to live in.

Jason said...

I live in Printers Row right off Dearborn/Polk, and I have to say that Dearborn Park has grown on me over the years since I moved here. I have come to think of it as something like a micro ecosystem within the larger South Loop environment. The cute and quiet pocket parks, the big, leafy trees, the mini-yards/decks of the still well-maintained, but austere Dearborn I houses. The area obviously attracts families, but from Polk moving down south to the progressively more yukked-up townhouses and houses seems also to the kind of diverse mix of races and ages of folks that makes the South Loop a neat place. And there's a quiet pleasantness of the area--you wouldn't guess that the hustle of Roosevelt or the zooming of State street is just over the wall--that is still decidedly urban.

What I also like about it is that knowing the entry/exit points is sort like a badge of local, neighborhood knowledge: the little pedestrian corridor on the south side of the Roosevelt overpass at State is probably the most obvious example if, say, you're coming south to Jewel (and soon TJ's!) and feel like a more quiet stroll than State or Wabash. And it's a fantastic option for starting or ending a bike ride south.

I don't like walls, or anything smelling like a "gated community" or any of those other awful terms that characterize many American residential situations. And I won't pretend to have an answer to the question of whether the limited-access approach was historically necessary. Unlike the Berlin Wall, though, I think it's safe to say that the Dearborn Park wall will never come down, but I don't see why it should. It seems to be, like I said, a little mini ecosystem in the South Loop that is thriving, serves a particular function, is still a desirable place to live, and works well. You can't get everything right in urban planning, but I think this one has grown up very well.

So: good question!

Todd said...

I agree completely with Jason. I live at 1401 S. State, just outside Dearborn Park and walk daily to work in the Loop. How do I do this? Through Dearborn II and then into Dearborn I. It is such a pleasant walk. I am able to gather my thoughts for the day, and after my walk is halfway complete, I am then hitting Congress where the city begins to really bustle. Then the reverse is true in the evening.

The thought of walking to work all the way up State is not appealing. Too much traffic and intersections the entire way.

I welcome the walled off aspect of Dearborn Park even though I don't live in it, but it is part of that appeal that makes me happy to be a Slooper!

Anonymous said...

Agree with many of the points made so far, but I do find it interesting that every commenter has mentioned how they dislike walking down state street in this part of the south loop. And, I agree, it is unpleasant.

It seems that the auto-sewer nature of State Street in this area is, at least partially, the fault of Dearborn Park's inward orientation. Whatever you think of the development, the question is... what can we do to make the outer areas of Dearborn Park more aesthetically pleasing and more hospitable for pedestrians?

If Dearborn Park is truly part of the South Loop, its residents should also be concerned about the State and Clark Street corridors, which surround their neighborhood, and which currently encourage speeding cars at the expense of a pedestrian-friendly environment.

Anonymous said...

Similar to other posters, nothing beats a walk down plymouth to and from work. However, I do like the walk along state from Roosevelt headed South. But from Roosevelt to Polk the walk is rather dull along State.

BRENDAN said...

please try to remember that State street is a main thoroughfare and not a cute little side street. DP wall or not---its not going to be extrememly pedestrian friendly.

i would rather have a wall than a chain link fence...believe it or not, some people want their privacy and protection. I think there are bigger fish to fry in SoLo.

Anonymous said...

It's not just the "auto sewer' aspect of State, but the fact that Dearborn Park makes only the barest minimum effort at landscaping along State and Clark. It really shows their attitude toward their neighbors, more or less FU and stay out. I've even seen "residents only" signs posted at the street entrance at 9th.

And Dearborn Park's resistance to ANY kind of change is persistent and deep. As witnessed in the article that is referenced in this thread

According to that 2001 aricle
"The plan proposes construction of pathways through Dearborn Park along 9th and 11th Streets, linking Grant Park to the Chicago River. Currently, pedestrians west of Dearborn Park have to travel north to Harrison Street or south to Roosevelt Road to get east to Michigan Avenue or the park.

City officials say the pathways are an important ingredient for the burgeoning South Loop community.

Residents are protesting the proposal because many feel the walkways are not needed.

“I see no need for a passageway that upsets the community just because some planner wants to follow some principle of planning,” said Ronald Wos, a resident of Dearborn Park I for 18 years.

Bonnie McGrath, a Dearborn Park II resident for six years, said she’s concerned the walkways would disturb the quiet nature of the community.

“Dearborn Park I and II have a certain serenity even though we’re in the heart of everything,” she said. "
They howled about bike paths and walkways opening it up. Yeah, why allow the public to fully use public sidewalks to get from Point A to Point B. Maddening.

I might add that one of the people quoted, Bonnie McGrath is now a columnist for the "Chicago Journal."

Jason said...

Me again. There's nothing really wrong with State street--as much as I love cutting through Dearborn Park, often I feel like a little bit more people watching. So I'll take State back-and-forth to Roosevelt from Polk. Even though I feel like the most suburban-feeling element on that stretch is the sometimes crowd outside Lou Malnati's, I still like the pedestrian traffic (such as it is). Clark, of course, is a totally different story: the stretch between Polk and Roosevelt, despite the Target- and elsewhere-bound people traffic on the west side of the street, still feels quite desolate. And I notice the Dearborn Park wall there more than anywhere else.

Matthew Schreiber said...

Dearborn park was designed to be a quiet community, secluded from the hustle and bustle of the big city! It was a conscious decision to be "walled off" in order to create a peaceful, family-friendly neighborhood. As an architect that lives in Dearborn park and works in the south loop, I love the fact that Dearborn Park has turned its back to the congestion and pollution that comes from State Street. I ask anyone to walk down the tree lined South Plymouth Ct. from 9th to Roosevelt and tell me that it does not seem like a nicer, quieter neighborhood than what's across the street on State. I used to live at 1130 S Michigan and the noise and pedestrian traffic was always frustrating. I agree that the architecture of the buildings is not contemporary by any means, but they do reflect and preserve the history of the south loop. In that sense, I don't think Dearborn Park should ever change.

Matthew Schreiber said...

Dearborn park was designed to be a quite, secluded community, away from the hustle and bustle of the big city! It was a conscious decision to be "walled off" in order to create a peaceful, family-friendly neighborhood. As an architect that lives in Dearborn park and works in the south loop, I love that dearborn park has turned its back to the congestion and pollution that comes from State Street. I ask anyone to walk down the tree lined South Plymouth Ct. from 9th to Roosevelt and tell me that it does not seem like a nicer, quieter neighborhood than what's across the street on State. I used to live at 1130 S Michigan and the noise and pedestrian traffic was always frustrating. I agree that the architecture of the buildings is not contemporary by any means, but it does reflect and preserve the history of the south loop. In that sense, I don't think it should ever change.

Anonymous said...

A hot button issue for certain, surprised you brought it up again. From a city perspective there really isn't any justification of the dislocation from the grid that Dearbron I and II cause with the resulting gridlock caused by walling off any east west traffic between State and Clark. All you have to do is sit in never moving traffic on Roosevelt or 18th street during rush hours or stadium events to see the effects. These areas were built in a garrison style because at their origin Congress was sort of a DMZ for development in terms of bringing families in. Interestingly, the original development plans were for much higher densities with both I and II being dominated by high rises but when they came on line all that would sell were townhomes, leading to the suburb inside the city aspect that is enhanced by their walled off aspect. One wonders if these were a high density area as originally planned whether those within the garrison would be as strident in their opposition to opening up to the grid.

In any event, those inside the fortress will certainly always oppose any movement, even bicycle and/or walking paths, to open passageways through just as those living outside of the areas will likely want the "privileged" walls torn down.

It certainly makes sense if you bought and own inside these areas you would resist any change -- why as the poster said be exposed to the traffic, pollution, noise etc. that the rest of the S. Loop faces if you don't have to?

Sloopy, no amount of discussion is going to get an agreement on this.

Anonymous said...

All one needs to know about Yo-Chicago is they pick developments of the year that do not even make it off the drawing board. Kudos.

1. Pedestrian Access should be improved east-west to Clark both North and South of Roosevelt.

2. Clark & State Super highways - This is where the community needs leadership in demanding their streets back for the residents who live and pay taxes. I do not give a rats ass about Suzy Suburb needing a faster way from her home in DuPage or Will County. The purpose of these streets needs to now fit what local residents need first - destination, public transit, and walkability.

The proliferation of Clark, State, Dearborn, etc. as Superhighways is due to long term social overtones of years gone by, (or the fact that much of the South Loop was empty 20 years ago);

But you do not see this concern for "commuter cars first" allowed in Gold Coast, Lincoln Park, and most of West Loop. The Ohio feeder is only example of that scale, along with Congress, and parts of North Ave, near 94, but these are for access to commercial and , entertainment areas primarily.

If you want to make South Loop more destination, start by breaking this cycle.

3. High-Rise Loving Hypocrites - interesting that many of the anti-Dearborn Park on Yo and other outlets harp on Dearborn Park, yet phallically
slobber on all the South-Loop high rise scene when
places like Central Station add zero integrated commercial or street life. In a sense, one could argue that Central Station, despite all of it's towers, is tragically master planned quite similar to Dearborn Park, promoting a garage-to-garage way of life.

Anonymous said...

"Dearborn park was designed to be a quiet community, secluded from the hustle and bustle of the big city! It was a conscious decision to be "walled off" in order to create a peaceful, family-friendly neighborhood." -----If you desire suburban living, move to the suburbs. The walled-off nature of this community, and its residents fierce resistance to change of any kind is detrimental to the South Loop, to Printer's Row, to the nearby West Loop.
As far as I'm concerned, Dearborn Park is NOT a part of the South Loop, they are their own entity. They are certainly more concerned with maintaining their pseudo-suburban community than the development of the neighborhood or the larger community.

Anonymous said...

I don't mind no through traffic through Dearborn Park, I think it's great actually, but it's useless too for outside pedestrians and cyclists. Right now you can't really get in and through unless you are willing to jump gates and fences. Open it up and have some stairs go up to Roosevelt.

Anonymous said...

Wow! You idiots have a lot of time on your hands. My advice is for all of you to become urban planners or run for city government. You may then find a forum where people will actually care about your diet tribes. No point in talking about it. Dearborn Park will remain how it is. Why not discuss the color of light poles next?

BRENDAN said...

Anon @ 3:26

You're an idiot. DP I & II were some of the first residential developments ever to come south of congress. To sit there and chastise people for living there is absolutely ridiculous. Do you realise those people helped pave the way for south loop development. Do you know how much planning went into developing a living, working way of life on the near south side? DP I and II are the cornerstones of people living in the south loop....but because you just bought a 1 bedroom loft on Indiana you all of a sudden are a expert? GMAFB....

To all you braindead assholes that want to "tear down walls"....exactly what are the homeowners supposed to do? Those "evil walls" separate a major street from peoples front/back DOORS! i mean please--are you people insane?? While youre at it, tear down the privacy sound barriers on I-294!

Those homes are between 4-700,000 dollars. Get over your envy.

Anonymous said...

Hey @Anonymous 3:58 pm,

One of the things that happens in a healthy community is that people engage over topics of interest. Verbally exploring what "might be" or "could have been" can help shape what happens next. And I suspect some of us are indeed armchair city planners, who contribute our voices to a larger discussion in our city. But: Apologies for interrupting your web browsing by conversing...

My 2 cents: I enjoy cutting through DP where possible, but going from Target to Hackney's (a common Saturday trip for me) requires sticking to the concrete plains of Clark St. That's a pity. I wonder in some sense whether walled communities like this will be relics in our cities of prior, rougher times, much like the palazzi of Florence or other venerable cities. Perhaps a moat along State St, enlivened by ivy and some sculpture, is called for.

Now, about these "diet tribes"--I need to lose some weight, so how can I find these folks and hang out with them?

Anonymous said...

The color of the light poles does seem rather jaded. What color do you propose?

Mr Downtown said...

With perfect hindsight, we certainly regret some of the decisions made in 1977 when the idea of having middle-class families living in the South Loop was not at all a sure thing. But remember that State Street was a skid row of rescue missions and cage hotels, where the car thieves and hookers were dismissed every morning from bond court at 11th & State. West of Clark was abandoned railyards where feral bums built bonfires to burn the insulation off scrap wire they'd gathered. How many of you would have actually bought (at 16% interest rates) a new townhouse with a front door opening onto State, knowing that every morning would bring discarded property bags, needles, condoms, and the smell of urine?

Dearborn Park came very close to being just another South Commons: Pleasant for those who live there, but not a game-changer for the city. The city was fading fast in the 1970s and the surgery had to be drastic and immediate.

It's nice to live long enough to see one's biggest battles dismissed by a younger generation as inevitable.

All that said, I cannot excuse my neighbors' continuing opposition to pedestrians cutting through the compound. The "Residents Only" sign is put up during big festivals so drivers won't think they can cut through to Clark. The problem with a stairway up to Clark and Roosevelt is ADA compliance.

Anonymous said...

Yep, agree with Mr. Downtown. Dearborn Park, walls and all, made sense back when it was built. Now, we have to live with those walls. But that doesn't mean improvements can't be made... and better pedestrian access would be a great start. As another commenter noted, I would also like to see them lively up the walls on both Clark and State. If we have to look at the walls, at least give us art (great project for Columbia or Jones students), landscaping... something.

Anonymous said...

I hate Dearborn Park. I've lived in the SL for about 5 years and I've never been in there. I'm always walking around it. Even if I did find a way in there, I'd feel like I'd get arrested or something. Are there stores in there? Leprechauns? The Wizard of Oz? I own property here and does my property taxes help maintain that pretty park under Roosevelt? If I'm walking up on Roosevelt's narrow sidewalk, why isn't there an easy entry way to that stinking park, so I can chill and get away from the traffic? Walking on State is crap because of that lame wall. The cool thing about living in the city is that walking is usually never boring because you get to see different buildings/housing architecture. On state, all you're looking at is that freaking wall. Properties in Central Station are probably way more expensive than Dearborn with family friendly neighborhoods filled with lush/green trees, yet it's not walled off! When I have power, I'll break those walls down, widen the sidewalks on Roosevelt OVER Dearborn space, and create more entry pedestrian points to all sections of Dearborn. Hells yah, FREEDOM!

Anonymous said...

We bought a white townhome on the first day sales opened(we lucked out with 10% guaranteed financing), and were the first to move in--November, 1979. I can assure you that no one would have purchased there if it had been an open grid development. As previously stated, it was a very rough area--the only residential option(other than flop houses)in the South Loop was the 1130 Michigan rental. We truly enjoyed our years in Dearborn Park I, and our return to the South Loop is in a Michigan Ave high rise... A viable urban neighborhood needs to offer all types of housing stock. No one can know for sure, but I doubt very much if there would be a South Loop residential neighborhood if not for Dearbor Park.

SouthLoopScot said...

The only complaint I have with DP 1 &2 is the lack of East-West access in DP I.

Mr. Downtown has been around here for while and he knows his stuff. I myself can remember what the Sloop looked like a mere 12 years ago when I first started dating my ex-wife (who had been in the area for about a year then) You didn't walk around the area after dark without keeping a close eye out, and there was a lot of undesirables hanging around on State St. then. Michigan Ave. and Wabash south of Roosevelt weren't much to look at. I can only imagine what the whole area looked like back when DP 1 opened up!

Sure, DP isn't pretty, but it's here to stay.

David said...

I've lived in the South Loop since 2005, so things generally look the same now since then. I'm wondering, with the topic of "how the South Loop once was" going on here, does anyone know of any detailed sites or video of how it actually looked in the 70's or 80's (basically, when it was like "skid row"). I'm fascinated to see what some of our current streets looked like before, especially in detail. A quick YouTube search yielded nothing for me.

Anonymous said...

Skid row ....but in the 40's

Anonymous said...

Who cares????

Anonymous said...

If they did something architectural with the wall, it could be nice. My issue is that the wall is just so bland.