Round and Round We Go. Now What?
So I guess I'll see everyone this Monday at 7pm for this week's version of The Circle Jerk Show. Let me know who'll be late and I'll try and save you a seat. They seem to be at a premium these days. Maybe the show is just getting more popular.
Here are the rules to play. All contestants will be required to sit on their hands and ask as few qustions as possible. Each reasonable question raises the heat in the room by 5 degrees. A softball question or endorsement lowers the the temperature by only 1/2 a degree. So, as you can see, there is no way to be informed and stay comfortable at the same time. But you guys didn't need to be told the rules. You've all sat in the sauna before. Well, they say it's good for your health.
And the subject for this show is the re revision of the development of the Pivot Point building that shouldn't even be here but is because the developer didn't want to spend the cash to take it down after the Passage family sold it under the threat of eminent domain even though the original plan didn't include it and the original developers couldn't shoot straight so a new developer started working on a plan none of us knew about. Whew! Are you still with me?
Ok, so let's get a little serious and ask WHY are we going to yet another meeting for a building whose fate we thought was decided years ago?
I'm No Genius
I love the Pivot Point Building. The graceful Art Deco styling and lobby are beautiful and could probably not be reproduced today at that height within the ruthless bottom line budget analysis that dictates all current development. The prevailing theory is that the Pivot Point building is and was, in the wrong place at the wrong time and should have come down to create unobstructed sightlines for the new and improved architecture of the Gateway Mall.
I believe that theory is backwards and in fact, it is the suburban concept Gateway Mall aesthetic that is in the wrong place at the wrong time.
North of Howard is an urban neighborhood within a city not a recently plowed under cornfield in Naperville. The "unobstructed sightline " theory is a suburban sprawl, corporate driven, free advertising, don't drive by too fast and miss the entrance idea that allows anchor tenants like Dominick's, to demand instant visual and minivan accesibility in exchange for their tenancy. That might be ok in places like Naperville or just off a highway in ANYWHERE USA, but it isn't right in an urban neighborhood like ours.
Pardon my smart aleck, but I don't think most of us forget to remember where Dominicks is. We don't need unobstructed sightlines to remind us that it's still there. We need more interesting retail tenants, lush landscaping and a sense of place and of well being to remind us how enjoyable it is to spend our money.
The premise for the sightline theory in this case was supposedly that all the shoppers from Evanston that were rushing to shop at Gateway, would have a clear vision of our architectural masterpiece. Sorry to have to break the news, but no one who lives in retail rich Evanston is shopping at Gateway.
People who shop here drive or walk to Gateway via west on Howard Street and what do they see? Are you with me? Visualize it. Once you pass under the viaduct and pass the bus terminal exit you see what.......................................................? Do you see Dominick's yet because I don't. You don't see Dominicks until you pass the oversized building and turn left, once you get to the sign, which I always almost miss. No unobstructed sight line on the north entrance.
Let's drive north on Clark, ok. You pass the great Rogers Park Fruit Market and you see what................................................? Visualize it. Do you see Dominicks yet because I don't. Again, I almost always miss the entry and from this entrance we don't see Dominick's until you park and get out of your car.
So this suburban sightline theory applied in this urban setting, in my opinion is hooey. This whole design is inside out. The people who shop at Dominicks are local neighborhood people and we've been given the worst sightlines. The people who don't shop there from Evanston were almost given the best sightlines and thank the developer for that.
I've done this little excercise not to bemoan the past but to let you know that these conclusions could have been arrived at by almost any one of my neighbors given all the facts and a set of blueprints prior to development. It's a little intimidating at first, but it's not rocket science. If five of us layed the bluprints out on a big table and started asking each other questions, we could come up with more issues than I did.
We're smarter than we are being given credit for and I think we should tap that common knowledge. The Alderman likes to refer to people like me who have a little information as dangerous, as he does Hugh. I'm not, in any way putting myself in Hugh's category since I think he has more information than Google. I'm just a regular person like you are and we are all capable of deciphering real facts and making rational decisions.This announcement has been brought to you by "the plant a seed department."
The Mistake By The Lake
Successful urban environments thrive on the intimacy and population density created by a hodgepodge of buildings of varying heights and styles that are home to businesses and people. Sometimes, with careful planning ( hint, hint ) this success can be achieved but some successful and enjoyable urban environments in my opinion happen by "accident". Buildings, services, landscaping and people that have evolved over time that come together and for some reason, just click.
Unfortunately, the Gateway Mall project and it's underwhelming suburban aesthetic is not a wonderful, intimate, urban accident waiting to happen but a terrible helter, skelter, wrong theory applied urban mistake.
It sits there, half empty with no no nod to history, no sense of the former Howard Street commercial vibrancy that it was supposed to renew and built with a straight line to profit plain box retail aesthetic that has no one rushing to shop there or sign lease space in. And ironically, it was built at a time when mall operators across the country were realizing that if their shopping plazas were to stand out from all the rest, there needed to be that differentiation from the next mall down the road. New malls and existing ones were built or retrofitted with a sense of place. But not Gateway.Why?
Because NOH was so starved for investment dollars and an economic booster shot, that the political leadership bought into Dominicks corporate and suburban sprawl theory and they didn't have to. I don't blame Dominicks, although I disagree with the theory applied here. They were just negotiating the best deal they could get and they got it and they knew they would. But it was a mistake and it has and will continue to cost us big time.
Maybe, a few more sets of eyeballs could have helped leadership and the development group from making some of these mistakes by reviewing the plans.
The Gateway Mall sticks out like a sore thumb, in my opinion, not the Pivot Point Building. The Pivot Point looks out of place only in relation to the ill conceived mall concept and awful design and I'm glad the developer decided to save his money and not demolish this beautiful building.
It should remain and renamed "The Mistake by the Lake". And it should be a constant reminder to us of the consequences of bad decisions, of no comprehensive planning and a fatal, short term thinking, profit driven rush to judgement, that has declared everything new is better than what we already own. This is nothing more than propaganda for profit and it needs to stop.
I know the developers are reading this and think they are reading another "hate all the developers" rant. I am not in that camp. Your responsible investment is needed in Rogers Park.
But I believe a balance must be found between Progress, Profit and Preservation within the context of a comprehensive plan for the 49th Ward.
Note: For those of you who have just visited the site and possibly agree with some of what has been written, please visit 24/7howardwatchers . There are more posts on that site that I intend to cut and paste to RogerParkReview. I've just been too busy banging my head against the wall. And I promise that all posts won't be as long as this one.