Anyway, a reader recently sent us a Chicago Tribune article discussing "The Future of Chicago's Cultural Mile". The author, Chris Jones, thinks it should be extended down to the historic Motor Row. While we don't disagree, we've been hearing about this for a long long time. Anyway, he starts his article with:
At first glance, the Chicago Cultural Mile ("Where Culture & Commerce Meet") resembles nothing so much as a gerrymandered congressional district.
According to its website, this officially arty and mercantile stretch begins at Michigan Avenue and the Chicago River (where many visitors walking south currently turn around), heads south down Michigan Avenue and then takes a turn toward the lake on Roosevelt Road, jogs southeast on Columbus Drive, then east again on McFetridge Drive, then briefly back north, then east again on Solidarity Drive. It is, for the record, closer to two miles than one. But then mile markers aren't stakeholders.
Why the serpentine path? Why not keep going south, all the way to Motor Row, between 2200 South and 2500 South Michigan Avenue, the stretch where one used to be able to buy more than 100 makes of automobile, the stretch where many of those historic buildings (including the home of the Chicago Defender) still stand and the stretch that has perhaps the most obviously dynamic potential for tourist-oriented, entertainment-centered economic development in the entire city of Chicago?
So why should this happen? Most of us know the answer, but if you want to hear Jones' take:
Motor Row, its natural destination, sits right next to the McCormick Place convention center, a crucial economic generator that was built without an obvious emotional link to its city — a disdain for urban context that extracts a heavy price. Fixing up Motor Row is the best way to change that. As the Tribune reported last fall, things are already happening: The Seattle-based food-circus hybrid known as Teatro ZinZanni is eyeing the 'hood for its long-anticipated Chicago branch. The band Cheap Trick is planning a venue and museum. There is talk of hotels and restaurants. A nearby stop on the Green Line is coming.
However, if you go and stand on Motor Row this week, none of that will be in evidence. But you can smell the potential. Motor Row could be the grittier Chicago equivalent of Downtown Disney in Florida, except the buildings won't be fakes. Perhaps this is a chance to redeem some of the mistakes of Maxwell Street, where history was papered over.
If (let's hope once) Motor Row gets fired up, the next problem will be that of connective tissue. People will want to walk back to the Loop — safely. I took part of that stroll the other day. The northbound trek on South Michigan Avenue allows you to drink in the majesty of the approaching city with singular intensity, a consequence of being hemmed in by tall buildings but discerning broader vistas ahead. It's an asset that will need to be exploited.Well that's all fine and dandy. Hopefully this happens. In the meantime, I guess we can just sit tight and see if this potential ever materializes. We think it will, but we grow more skeptical each year.
Also, we don't really like the idea of "Chicago's equivalent to Downtown Disney". That's just plain scary.
Finally, we didn't know about Teatro ZinZanni scouting the hood. Naturally that has intrigued us to find the following teaser for one of their other venues (and makes us feel like this Downtown Disney thing is a real possibility):
(Hat tip: EJM!)