Sunday, August 30, 2009

Planes and Plans

Except for random nocturnal strollers getting bashed over the head just down the street, it’s pretty quiet in Lincoln Park these days . . . now that the Chicago Air and Water Show has come and gone. Not long ago Jill and I trundled our folding chairs and rolling cooler out to the Diversey Harbor inlet to catch the aero thrills.

You can’t beat Chicago’s lakefront on a hot August Saturday when over two million people are spread out as far as you can see and the boaters are anchored all the way to the horizon. Add to that the bawling of the propeller planes and the howl of those jet jobs and you’ve got yourself a good old time.

It would be enough just to watch the people. They say the place is a city of neighborhoods, and all the neighborhoods are here, drawn to the lake just as they have been for a century and more. It’s summer, and the living is easier at lakeside. It’s cooler here, and the off-shore breeze is a welcome relief to the hot dust of the stone city. That’s the way it has been for over a century.

A hundred years ago Edward H. Bennett and Daniel Burnham published the Plan of Chicago, a city-changing document under the direction of the Commercial Club. These were the words the authors used to press home the importance of the city’s lakefront . . .

Not a foot of its shores should be appropriated by individuals to the exclusion of the people. On the contrary, everything possible should be done to enhance its attractiveness and to develop its natural beauties, thus fitting it for the part it has to play in the life of the whole city. It should be made so alluring that it will become the fixed habit of the people to seek its restful presence at every opportunity.

I don’t know how restful the Air and Water Show is, but to be a part of the shoreline throng stretching from Montrose Harbor all the way to Navy Pier is to see, a century later, the large part that the Lake Michigan shore plays in the life of the city.

“The Lake front by right belongs to the people,” Burnham and Bennett wrote. They would be pleased.

So the show went on.

The Golden Knights jumped. The Lima Lima team traced the sky in precise strokes. Chuck Aaron strapped his 60-year-old body into the Red Bull helicopter and did back flips and 360-degree rolls, the only man in the country licensed to do such stunts. And to finish it off the U. S. Air Force Thunderbirds screeched and screamed and blasted their way past the crowd in a 20-minute display of brute power and absolute control.

All the while hundreds of thousands of folks just like me surveyed the sky as they picnicked. Children clap-hopped. The ice cream venders pushed their bicycle carts through the crowd. And hundreds of boats swung easily at anchor.

Show me another city with such heroic action in such a beautiful place, a walk or bus ride away from the neighborhood. Show me another city that, a hundred years ago, would not only have anticipated such a day and such a place, but worked to make them happen.

Just as we owe those early city planners a debt of gratitude, we also owe those who will be a century from now an honest attempt to improve and enlarge the legacy that was given to us. That’s only fair.

No comments: