Inclusionary Wealth

Amid writing my posts about how the wealth gap manifests itself in the built environment and the morality of unequal economic investment in cities, I took another trip to Chicago. I spent most of my stay in the downtown areas within a mile of Grant Park. I love the old stone buildings, established green parks, ornate fountains, and modern glass skyscrapers with interesting architectural embellishments. Yet this trip, I felt hypocritical as I walked around soaking it all in. All these elements that I enjoy are the result of significant financial outlay that I know is not evenly distributed throughout the city. So where was my moral indignation at this display of deeply entrenched wealth unequally spread?

Chicago’s display of wealth isn’t gaudy like Tijuana or Las Vegas. The message I absorb in places like those with their flashing lights is “come on in, so we can suck all the money out of your pockets.” Chicago businesses identified their presence on the street with regular signs leaving it up to the passers to decide whether to engage.

One bar did add a layer of enticement to their sidewalk advertising. I was searching for a place for dinner, with this bar in mind as the one that looked most appealing from Google maps. I was looking around to see if there were any other better options. The smell of the burgers from this first bar convinced me that it was the best option in that vicinity. It was only after I had sat down and ordered that I realized the smell wasn’t coming from the open window, but rather it came from pipes pumping the kitchen smells to the sidewalk. Still it was a subtle inducement and unlike flashing lights it did not have a nefarious undertone.

By pumping out the smell to the sidewalk, it also felt indiscriminate. Anyone passing was invited to enjoy. This was unlike my experience in Cardiff where if I couldn’t afford the items in the business, I felt I shouldn’t be walking past in the public space. I never felt like I didn’t belong in Chicago. There were economic barriers to certain experiences, but those places that I encountered still did not feel exclusionary. One example is the lounge on the 96th floor of Chicago’s Hancock Building. The stunning views are only accessible to those who can afford a $17 cocktail, but those who can afford one only once in a blue moon were just as welcome as those who can afford one or more every night.

In Chicago, I never saw that strong line, as in Tijuana and Cardiff, that divided those with and those without financial resources.  Everywhere I went, there was a mix of people with different economic statuses, skin colors, and first languages. This diversity gave me the feeling that anyone is welcome to enjoy the well-maintained investment in public spaces with or without hitting a minimum financial threshold.

Layers of the City: Chicago Edition

The first place to show me how a city can be stacked like a layer cake, Chicago provided ample opportunities to explore all levels of the city. The experience of noticing the expansion joints in roads that I assumed were on solid ground opened my eyes to the possibilities of stacking uses.

Underground Life

A vacant lot two stories below street level solved the mystery of the expansion joints, by exposing the inner guts.  Two more roads sit below street level to segregate trash pick-up and deliveries from the flow of traffic.  These lover levels also provide some opportunities for parking without monopolizing valuable real estate above.  Retail shops connected by pedestrian passageways are also interspersed in these layers.

River Life

At the same elevation as the “underground life,” the Chicago River flows through the heart of the city.  On and along the river are a variety of activities.  Pedestrian paths, cafes, housing, parks, industrial uses, and homeless encampments line the shores.  Meanwhile, the river abounds with ducks, boat tours, water taxis, construction staging, and marinas.

Street Level

Back up on the street level, life buzzes.  Vehicular and pedestrian traffic rush passed, occasionally pealing off to visit the numerous shops, offices, museums, restaurants, cafes, parks, and trails.

Pie in the Sky

Yet, more life looms above.  Several of the skyscrapers have penthouse, or nearly penthouse, restaurants.  Others have rooftop observation platforms.  Between these and the street are many other opportunities for enjoying life including a religious sanctuary, the “L”, gardens, art, pedestrian bridges, and of course, offices, apartments, hotel rooms, and shops.

Unlike Pittsburgh, in Chicago, the public is welcome in some form on every level to gain a full experience of the city.

Layers of the City: Pittsburgh Edition

I clench my teeth every time the “T”, Pittsburgh’s light rail system, slowly makes the first 90 degree bend leaving Gateway Station, squeaking like fingernails on a chalkboard.  After traveling a few hundred yards, it turns back 90 degrees–squeak, scratch, squeak–before pulling into the Wood Street Station.  As everyone knows that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, I struggled to understand why the T was built with turns so sharp it is impossible for the trains not to screech, until my friend pointed out that there might be building foundations or basements that the underground tracks need to maneuver around.

Like many metropolises, the density of downtown Pittsburgh creates various physical layers of activity.  Yet compared to other some other cities (see future post Layers of the City: Chicago Edition), Pittsburgh’s layers can be hard to notice.  The T is perhaps the most obvious example.  For most of it’s length through the southern neighborhoods and suburbs, the T travels at grade.  Once it crosses the Monongahela River into Downtown, it becomes an elevated train for a few blocks before submerging underground until it passes under the Allegheny River to the North Shore, where it reemerges to end as an elevated train.

Underground Life

If you get off the T at Gateway Station and walk down a block to the start of 5th Ave, which actually feels like an alley, you might notice that the Highmark Building is built over an underground garage.  I assume that this garage has multiple levels below grade and is at least part of the reason for the T’s sharp turns.

The new PNC Tower also has a garage below grade.  Yet the most recent new construction project downtown, on the former site of Sax Fifth Avenue, places the garage between the first floor retail and proposed upper level residences.

The building I work in, the former Jones & Laughlin Steel Mill Headquarters, has at least 3 1/2 levels of basement.  The building is long past its days of glory with peeling paint, cracked foundation, and elevators that you may never make it out of again.  The mezzanine level of the basement is a maze of building supplies, file cabinets, discarded furniture and boxes upon boxes of documents.  It is damp and dusty.  Five minutes down there could lead to a severe allergy attack.  Yet the stairs keep going down and down, plunging further into the dark depths.  I’ve heard rumors of more documents being stored in the lower levels.

Street Level

Coming back above ground, most activity in downtown Pittsburgh takes place at street level.  Pedestrians, bicyclists, buses, cars, delivery trucks, dumpsters, and more compete for space on the narrow streets and sidewalks.  Most shopping and restaurants are located at street level.  The Highmark Building and the Oxford Building still have some retail above the first floor.

Pie in the Sky

As you walk around downtown, if you look up, you might catch a rare sight of pedestrian sky bridges.  The most famous of which is the Bridge of Sighs connecting the Allegheny County Courthouse with the former Jail.  The second most famous (speaking with pure bias) is the bridge connecting the parking garage with what used to be the shoe section of the former Kaufmann’s Department Store (always a necessary stop when shopping for back to school).  A handful of others are sprinkled throughout downtown.  Indianapolis has got us beat though.  That city has a network of pedestrian connections that enables you to walk for miles between the stadiums, office buildings, and other structures downtown without ever getting a taste of fresh air.

Higher up, there is a sprinkling of rooftop or penthouse restaurants.  This is one of our complaints at work: while many new, good restaurants have opened downtown in recent years, there is still a dearth of restaurants and bars with views.  Sienna Mercado’s Il Tetto, Harris Grill, and the Biergarten at Hotel Monaco all have rooftop decks, but they are surrounded by taller buildings limiting views.  Ollie’s Gastropub on the top floor of the Oliver Building has some good views, but no fresh air.

There isn’t much connection or relationship between the different parts of these layers in Pittsburgh.  It is like they are experiments, like the city is only dabbling.  As if to say, it can’t make up its mind whether or not to let the public leave street level and participate in or explore all levels of the city.

 

The World’s Tallest Church Building

Chicago Temple

Everything in Chicago is stretched–even churches.  My eye was caught by this building as I looked to cross a street in Chicago and saw the steeple on top of this skyscraper a couple blocks down.  I was very confused at first, trying to figure out why an office building had a steeple on top of it.  Then I saw the name of the church, First United Methodist Church, carved into the side of the building.  The only other indication on the exterior visible from a distance that suggested the religious use of the interior was the doorway.

Chicago Temple Doorway

This building is also known as the Chicago Temple.  The congregation was founded in 1831 and has been worshiping at this site since 1838.  The current building was built in 1924 and has 23 floors.

One of my souvenirs from Chicago was the book “City of the Century” by Donald L. Miller, which describes the history of Chicago up to the 1893 World’s Fair.  So it doesn’t talk about the building of this church building, but it does describe the building of the Auditorium–Chicago’s multipurpose Opera House.  The book notes “there was no government support of the arts in the United States, so the Auditorium would have to pay for itself” (361).  As a result the theater was enclosed in a office/hotel complex.

It seemed like there might have been similar thinking in the design of this church building–as real estate was expensive downtown, covering the church with office space could help it afford its location.  However, if that is why the building is mixed-use, it was not inspired by the Auditorium, which was built in the late 1880s.  According the history page of the church’s website, there has been a multipurpose church building on this site since 1858.  The first one was a 4-story structure with stores and businesses on the first two floors and the church above.

First Methodist Church

The new building has a two-story sanctuary on the first floor.  Accounts differ as to how many this can hold (500, 1000, 1200 people).  The second floor has another smaller sanctuary.  Floors three and four hold the accessory rooms–classrooms, meeting rooms, etc.  The parson’s house is also located in the building.  The remaining floors are office space.  The crowning jewel, is a small chapel underneath the steeple.

I regret that I did not take the time to stop and investigate whether I could explore the inside of the building.  As I was focused on a specific task when I came upon the building, I did not even think about trying to see inside.  If you are interested, I found a YouTube video that shows what I take to be the first floor sanctuary and the small chapel under the steeple.