The Surreal Thing: Chicago's Broken Landmarking Process

Even as it celebrates the 40th anniversary of the city's landmarks ordinance, the Commission on Chicago Landmarks not only continues to leave many essential buildings unprotected, it's upending the very definition of what a landmark is.

"If you're looking for someone to blame, you could start with Brian Goeken. A deputy commissioner of the city planning department, he heads its landmarks division, which coordinates landmarks protection with city planners and provides staff and research for the landmarks commission. By city ordinance, the planning department commissioner is a voting member of the landmarks commission along with eight mayoral appointees; Goeken is not, though he attends its meetings, weighs in on its agenda, and wields great influence over its decisions. Last year it held a hearing on whether a developer could demolish the landmark Farwell Building on Michigan Avenue and paste its facades onto a completely new structure, much of which would be a parking garage. When objections were raised about allowing a garage on Michigan Avenue, Goeken was Johnny-on-the-spot: "The commission has previously approved parking on street frontages as part of 6 N. Michigan and the Monroe Building . . . and also as part of 21-29 S. Wabash"-that is, the Legacy project. It didn't matter that this and the other examples were south of the river, almost a mile away in completely different landmark districts. Goeken was persuasive-the Legacy had become an argument for making parking on the Magnificent Mile A-OK. It's just one example of how Goeken is a master at expanding precedents; he can take a tiny rivulet and expand it into a superhighway."

Thanks to Lynn Becker

Full Story: Losing our Landmarks

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