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Architecture Critic Finds Faults in Chicago Placemaking

Architecture Critic Blair Kamin wants more from Make Way for People, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel's placemaking program, and finds faults with the Lincoln Hub as an example of tactical urbanism.
July 7, 2015, 6am PDT | James Brasuell | @CasualBrasuell
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Chicago Tribune Architecture Critic and Pulitzer Prize winner Blair Kamin provides a critical take on the city of Chicago's efforts to create people places around the city.

Three years after its launch in 2012, according to Kamin, "the innovative program, a highly visible part of Mayor Rahm Emanuel's push to make car-dominated city streets more attractive to pedestrians, remains an underachiever."

Kamin blames the underwhelming performance both on quality and quantity. On the latter, Chicago has managed to create only six "people spots"—compared to more than 50 parklets in San Francisco. Moreover, adds Kamin, the design of Chicago's people spots "ranges from so-so to striking….Most are dressed-up sidewalk cafes — long on the cliche of tables and chairs, short on creativity."

Kamin also does a good job laying out the case for placemaking efforts like those supported by Make Way for People, even if the program could achieve more tangible results for its cause. For instance, Kamin notes that a study by the Metropolitan Planning Council and Sam Schwartz Engineering found positive survey results from businesses located near the program's initial projects. In another show of support for the concept, Kamin also recommends ways Chicago could accelerate the program's rate of success.

In a separate article published in concert with the Make Way for People criticism, Kamin also provides a withering critique of the Lincoln Hub project, which transformed an intersection on the North Side with polka dots and bollards to make space for pedestrians but has provoked ire from locals and commuters. Kamin cites the Lincoln Hub as an example of tactical urbanism, noting its success in other cities, like New York, but wondering whether it can achieve similar positive effects in Chicago.

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Published on Sunday, July 5, 2015 in Chicago Tribune
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