The process of elevating Chicago’s surface parking lots to higher purposes continues not only in the downtown area, but also in the neighborhood commercial corridors.
One of the more visible urban keystones being reconsidered is the parking lot adjacent to the Blue Line subway station in Logan Square.
There’s been a lot of talk lately about building some kind of residential structure there dedicated entirely to affordable housing. At first, that seemed like a gimme. We’re huge fans of affordable housing in Chicago, of which the city has a desperate need, especially near transit hubs. But then another concern shot us an e-mail with another option: A farmer’s market.
Josh Hutchison, principal at 34/Ten Architecture in Avondale, is the noggin behind the notion. He thinks a year-round, removable-roof market hall is a better fit for this location, in part, because it would serve more people in the neighborhood, not just those living in the proposed affordable housing building. “People need to be aware of other options. The alderman is not giving his constituents other options.”
He envisions traditional greengrocers rubbing elbows with pop-up shops and public art space. There would also be public restrooms, a cafe, and a seating area and viewing bridge on the second floor. In nice weather, the entire building goes al-fresco with removable roof panels.
The use of shipping containers is one key to the project’s success, since they would keep construction costs down. This wouldn’t be Chicago’s first retail experience in a shipping container, but it would be the biggest. Though larger mini-malls have been built with containers in places like Las Vegas.
“One of the primary objectives is to provide opportunities for small businesses and proprietors within the community,” says Mr. Hutchison. “Small retail spaces (an 8’x20’ container) with short term leases provide an opportunity for people to hang a shingle in a high traffic retail district where they would otherwise be unable to do so. If someone in the area has a business idea that they may have been afraid to pursue because the risks were too high, they now have an environment that facilitates and encourages the pursuit of their idea with less risk.”
Without question, the Logan Square neighborhood is changing. And its new demographics may well welcome a market place over a apartment block. But any time there is competition between something associated with hipsters, and something associated with the working poor, you’re going to hear the G-word: Gentrification. The influx of hipsters and other like-minded individuals over the last five to ten years has breathed new life into the area. But it remains to be seen if they’re enough of a force to overcome the objections of the area’s entrenched interests.
“This particular lot and ensuing discussion is more about how we use public land. Whether we’re discussing a sci-fi museum, luxury housing or affordable housing, the land has to transfer from the city to a private entity for the land to be developed,” says Hutchison. “Once the land is out of the public domain, it is gone forever. The developers make their money, the alderman gets his campaign contributions, and the tax paying public gets stuck with a terrible deal. My personal belief is the land should remain within the public domain, whether a park, a parking lot, or a market place. In short, housing does not belong on this plot of public land. Period.”