Saturday, July 17, 2004

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If you're in Chicago...

You have two three reasons to rejoice:

1) The opening of Millennium Park. The family and I checked it out today, and a good time was had by all. This opening weekend includes a lot of parades, musical performances, and other activities. The nominal architectural highlight is the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, which was designed by Frank Gehry and evokes his Guggenheim Museum in Bilao. For me, however, Anish Kapoor's Cloud Gate is the real treat -- a mirrored sculpture that beautifully reflects the Chicago skyline. Here's a picture, but it doesn't do Kapoor's vision justice:


[UPDATE -- , href="">here's a better photo:]
Here's a link to Millennium park's official website, and here's a link to the Chicago Tribune's special webpage devoted to the park.

2) For South-Siders, any injection of retail is a welcome development -- compared to the North Side and the suburbs, this region (which includes Hyde Park) is a veritable desert of commerce. So, even small steps by big-name brands are welcomed.

Dan Mihalopoulos and Antonio Olivo report in the Chicago Tribune on the South Shore neighborhood's brand new coffee shop:

Starbucks, an icon for everything from gentrification to Seattle chic to corporate dominance, means something simpler to 5th Ward Ald. Leslie Hairston.

"You are officially a neighborhood when you get a Starbucks," said Hairston, who fought to bring one to South Shore even as residents of affluent neighborhoods bemoaned the spread of the chain coffeehouses.

Finally on Friday, a Starbucks will open on the corner of 71st Street and Stony Island Avenue, the only shop of its kind in Chicago south of Hyde Park.

The familiar green awnings of Starbucks are another sign of hope on the South Side, where home values are rising. Many neighbors see the shop as a mark of newfound respect for black buying power and a harbinger for more new stores. Hairston, for one, dreams of a Target, a Best Buy and maybe a Kinko's.

But it has taken four years, the alderman's intervention and civic-minded basketball star Magic Johnson just to open one brand-name coffeehouse.

And in a part of the city where most basic shopping is still a long car or bus ride away, neighborhood advocates recognize that they still have a long road from that first grande latte to a thriving local economy....

Scott Gendell and Zeb Mclaurin, the Chicago-based developers of the new Starbucks site, said retail chains should realize that the South Side is fertile ground for selling electronics, linens and other goods that residents say they customarily buy as far away as Orland Park or northwest Indiana.

The corridor along Stony Island is ripe for a change similar to the retail boom along Clybourn Avenue during the last decade, they said.

"It takes time to sell people who don't understand this market, but their ability to make money here is so obvious," Gendell said. (emphasis added)

Hey, if there is anyone at Trader Joe's who reads this blog, go back and re-read that bolded section -- the place could use a decent high-end grocery store as well.

3) H. Gregory Meyer and Darnell Little report in the Sunday Chicago Tribune that the entire state (including Chicago) is much safer than it used to be:

Illinois' crime rate took another big drop in 2003, bringing the numbers close to what they were before crime took off in the 1970s.

The sweeping drop in 2003, twice as large as the previous year, was seen in Chicago, most suburbs and smaller cities across the state, according to new Illinois State Police data. Only the most sparsely settled counties saw a general increase, as violent crime rose there for the third straight year, according to data to be released Sunday.

Statewide, total serious crimes reported to police fell for the ninth year in a row to 497,693, which translates to a crime rate not seen since 1972--when Richard Nixon was in the White House and a different Daley ran Chicago City Hall.

Crime in Illinois took a sharp upturn in the early 1970s, climbing throughout the decade. The situation worsened in the 1980s as the crack cocaine epidemic plagued many urban areas. Crime in the state eventually peaked in 1991. But for the last decade, crime rates have rolled progressively downward.

The 2003 report shows declines in all eight offenses making up the state's index of major crimes: murder, sexual assault, robbery, assault, burglary, theft, auto theft and arson. Reports of sexual assault, after unexpectedly jumping in 2002, dived below the average of the last five years.

posted by Dan on 07.17.04 at 05:30 PM


"The place" could use anything, quite frankly.

posted by: pjs on 07.17.04 at 05:30 PM [permalink]

I give the Pritzker pavilion five to ten years before Chicago wakes up and realizes that it is the world's ugliest amphitheatre.

posted by: praktike on 07.17.04 at 05:30 PM [permalink]

It's nice to hear some good news about the old hometown. Thank you, Professor Drezner! My very limited experience while living in Hyde Park gave me the preliminary impression that South Shore is a good albeit underrated neighborhood with plenty of hard-working middle-class, and professional-class residents. It seems like Starbucks made a smart move. South Shore residents online, do you agree?

posted by: Arjun on 07.17.04 at 05:30 PM [permalink]

Agreed: Kapoor's "bean" is quite magical. The proof of the pudding for Gehry's pavilion is in the sound and also how good it looks five years from now.

I have to say, returning to Chicago from years in DC, where no one would have had the balls, resources, political longevity or public support to undertake anything nearly so bold--bravo to da Mayor! That guy loves this city more than anyone in DC has ever loved that sad, forlorn town. It shows, too.

And that bridge of Gehry's? Why don't they just give kids burlap sacks for sliding down its sleek steel sides? My prediction is it'll be the site of many a double dog dare in the depths of winter. Said my seven year old son: this'd make an awesome half pipe. His knowledge of extreme sports is a bit weak, but the kernal of truth is there. Better post a sentry 24-7.

posted by: Kelli on 07.17.04 at 05:30 PM [permalink]

“The situation worsened in the 1980s as the crack cocaine epidemic plagued many urban areas.”

This so called plague is merely the result of our stupid anti-drug laws. Decriminalizing mind altering drugs would eliminate the need for addicts to steal to pay for them. Our national policy should be that of warning people not to engage in such self destructive behavior, but then allow them to ultimately choose whether to make fools of themselves. It is their problem and should not become the overall society’s. Ironically, it will probably be the Republican Party that will do another Nixon normalizing relations with China. The Democrats will not touch this issue with the proverbial ten foot pole.

posted by: David Thomson on 07.17.04 at 05:30 PM [permalink]

I actually think, praktike, that the Gehry bandshell is pretty aesthetically pleasing. I'm with Kelli -- the only way we'll "wake up" to something wrong with it is if it is a musical/acousticel disaster. And given the positive reports about acoustical detail at Gehry's Disney Concert Hall in LA, this seems unlikely. I particularly like the fact that the stainless steel on the bridge in a way "softens" the effect of the stainless steel of the bandshell, making that material a part of the park's atmosphere. Compared to, say, Boston's Esplanade, outdoor music here has been taken seriously and will be a great experience. My only complaint is that the park's layout causes the bandshell to dwarf the beautifully minimalist Harris Theater just to the North.

posted by: Brett on 07.17.04 at 05:30 PM [permalink]

Millenium Park may be wonderful, but here's the problem: it cost $475 million and counting -- and of that, $275 million and counting came from private donors. This at a time when Chicago remains more segregated than ever; crime may be down, but poverty is not; and the City's finances are in such bad shape that Daley had to cancel the Neighborhoods Alive program, and the "sister agencies" like the CHA and CTA are struggling to pay for much needed improvements in housing and transportation (and, although the schools aren't as awful as they once were, I'd bet that most people who went to the Millenium park this weekend either don't or wish they didn't have to send their kids to them for their education).

So, could the Mayor have used the City's resources and asked the City's philanthropists to do other, perhaps more socially meaningful, things with their money than fix...what did he call "eyesore"? You bet. But the business and civic leadership, as well as the press, would never say so, for fear of offending his honor -- and offence that in this town can have real economic consequences.

Look I am no social idealist, but even I can see that $425 million for a four-square city park on the white-elitist lakefront seems a bit obscene.

posted by: Joshuadog on 07.17.04 at 05:30 PM [permalink]

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