Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Bagdhad by the lake

The Economist newsaper last year famously referred to Chicago as "Baghdad by the lake" noting:

A DICTATOR on the rampage; airfields destroyed; a pre-emptive strike; calls for outside intervention to bring democracy. It is not difficult to see why one cartoonist has lampooned Richard Daley's Chicago as “Baghdad by the lake”.

In my opinion Mayor Daley is no dictator, at least not a violent one. Yet, a creeping Statism pervades our Urban environment, presuming the Government is the best decision maker as to use of public resources. Consider this: the Cannes beachfront pictured above is most completely privately owned and managed. All manner of hotels, such as the Martinez (a haunt of PG Wodehouse among others) provide pretty much any service a visitor could want, right to your lounge chair on the Mediterranean. But if this privately owned model can work in semi-Socialist France, why not Chicago?

Well, back some 50 years ago, Chicago did have something quite like Le Croissette in Cannes: Edgewater Beach. Everyday luxury, a walkable neighborhood and yes, cold drinks served at your lounge chair on the beach.

So what happened? Well, you might notice that Lake Shore Drive is not in that postcard picture, as it was not built yet. Through an incessant demand for a quicker commute, landfill was inserted on the EAST side of the lake front to build the massive (and quite functional) highway. But in between, pedestrian and private access to Lake Michiagan were cut off. Anyone wanting to get to the Lake in this neighborhood is taking his life in his own hands.

So, since the loss of an Old Urban piece of brilliance is a lamented waste of natural resources one might think that the "progressive" elements in Chicago would work night and day to see that it does not happen again. Unfortunately, not true.

The long closed USX South Works in the South Shore neighborhood is a case in point. A 275 acre site surrounded by Lake Michigan is under redevelopment now, with many quite pleasant plans to implement "New Urbanism" non-vehicular everday life, with Metra Stops, restaurants, high density residential area, and most importantly: pedestrian access to Lake Michigan.

However, an alternate view exists, touting Government control of the lakefront in the South Shore neighborhood, cutting off human access to the Lake with another in a series of ill-advised, underutilized, poorly maintained, pedestrian-hostile "park". In a presentation titled "Completing the South Lakefront Parks:The Last Four Miles", a group claiming to be "Friends of the Park" are demanding control of "approximately 4 miles are not public parks but remain in private or quasi-governmental ownership."

Can anyone tell with, with the City's pathetic record on providing park access and maintenance, do we really want the city to appropriate the last area between Foster Ave and Indiana not under the Park District's thumb? Or would we rather have at least a French level of respect for private enterprise to provide human access to one of the finest natural resources in the Midwest?

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