The following are ten planning lessons from multiples visits to the dynamic City of Chicago.
- The city’s 22-mile long lakefront is Chicago’s crown jewel. For nearly the entire shoreline to have been preserved as parkland for public use is one of history’s great urban achievements. Should the Bears mistakenly venture out to the suburbs, Soldier Field should be demolished so that the city’s near Southside neighborhoods can be better connected to the central facets of this crown jewel.
- Despite its diminutive size, compared to other waterways the Chicago River is quite remarkable, especially when experienced by boat or from grand vistas along it throughout downtown and nearby areas.
- Damn, it gets dark early in the late fall and winter months. Furthermore, in Chicago, those areas lying beneath the shadows of skyscrapers and/or located beneath the “L’s” tracks have even shorter windows of daylight throughout the year. One has to wonder if darkness as early as 4:30 in the afternoon impacts the social, physical, and mental health of those communities located near the eastern edge of a time zone. While down-shielded lighting helps protect the night sky, perhaps outdoor/indoor lighting plans that improve mental health during such times would be an idea for consideration.
- For the city to begin growing again, Chicago must overcome those divisive aspects that separate its citizens by race, class, education, opportunity, and safety. Otherwise, the have-nots will either continue to flee Chicago for places perceived to be more welcoming or remain trapped in the city’s unequal north/south divide.
- Living amongst high-rises has it own set of unique difficulties, not the least of which is how clearly one hears activities taking place on the street level despite being many stories above the din. Perhaps one gets used to it, but maybe developers should be required to design residential towers with better sound insulation.
- As much as I love Chicago’s mass transit options, the long-term impacts of near-constant noises emitting from trains running along the “L” has to be hard on the hearing of nearby residents. From this planner’s perspective, at-grade and underground rail options have far less noise impacts on those residing nearby.
- The absence of an express train option to/from O’Hare International Airport (O’Hare) is the single biggest oversight and drawback of traveling here via air. It should NOT take more than an hour to get to the airport from downtown using so-called “rapid transit.” Even 1-2 nonstop trains in the morning and another 1-2 in the late afternoon or evening would be helpful to those who don’t want to agonize through 16-18 stops in the vain hope that they won’t miss their flight.
- It is quite impressive to see the fleet of snow plows lined up to tackle a snow event at O’Hare. At the same time, it is always amazing how often flights get delayed/canceled by a minimal snowfall, despite such an army of vehicles at work.
- O’Hare and other major airports are truly cities unto themselves, except for the lack of permanent residents. The planning requirements are just as complex and require as much forethought and in-depth consideration. As a result, citizen participation should be just as key of a component as it is for comparable cities.
- Chicago, much like Los Angeles and New York City are incredible beehives of constant activity. They pulsate like the heart of the nation that they reflect. Having visited these great metropolises multiple times, they each have their own pluses and minuses, but one cannot help but be awe-inspired by all of them.
If Chicago intrigues you too, here are several books about the city that are available via Amazon.com.*
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