May 21, 1973 -- The Chicago Tribune prints a report on the full plan to revitalize the central area of the city, a plan for which the Chicago Central Area Committee paid Skidmore, Owings & Merrill nearly $400,000 to draft. Today it is interesting to note what parts of the plan “made it” and what recommendations did not. The stakes were high. As the Tribune observes, “If it bombs, downtown Chicago may bomb, too.” The report puts into words what “white leaders don’t know how to talk about . . . without sounding like bigots.” Whites running from the city to the suburbs, which are becoming increasingly independent of the city. A “growing schizophrenia [skyscrapers and stores bustling by day, with little action at night] . . . changing the Loop. Blacks “still crowded into housing projects like Cabrini-Green” and the potential of a “tipping point where whites start staying away” from the city.
The 1973 SOM plan suggested "gradual modification." for projects such as Cabrini Green.
The above photo shows Cabrini Green as it sprawled across the northwest side of the city.
Here are some of the recommendations that we can look on 43 years later and admire the prescience of the planners of the early 1970’s:
• Meigs Airport will be scrapped and Northerly Island, on which it stands converted to park, beach and picnic use.
• Navy Pier will be transformed into a lively recreational facility with restaurants, an auditorium, and exhibits.
• No further private construction will be permitted east of Lake Shore Drive.
• A miniature supercity for 120,000 would be concentrated on 650 acres of largely unused railroad land, south of the Loop.
• Means would be found to encourage major development of the Chicago Dock and Canal Trust property along the north side of the river between St. Clair Street and the lakefront.
• Rehabilitation and stabilization – not clearance, or relocation – are stressed for the Pilsen and East Humboldt Park neighborhoods.
And here are a few that didn’t get done:
• A giant sports arena would be built south of the Loop. It would be within easy distance of the lakefront if not actually on it.
• Lake Shore Drive, where it runs along Grant Park, would be narrowed and left turns would be prohibited, forcing motorists heading for the central business district to park in new public lots on the Loop’s fringes and ride on a new subway or another form of public transportation.
• The Loop elevated will be torn down and replaced with a subway. Once free of the elevated’s shadow, the east side of Wabash Avenue will be converted to a pedestrian-oriented shopping street.
• A personalized, automated rapid transit system might connect the “super blocks” of the South Loop to the center of the city over Illinois Central Gulf Railroad air rights. A passenger would enter a small car, push a button on a map showing his destination, and zip away automatically.
And . . . a few that sort of got done:
• Traffic on State Street would be narrowed to four lanes for buses and taxis only Autos would be banned. Widened sidewalks with tees and shrubs would form pleasant promenades. (This one happened in an experiment that didn’t work and was reversed.)
• Gradual modification of Cabrini Green is proposed. (It got modified down to bare ground.)