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4/3/06 Tribune--Chicago's Biggest Blunders

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See section below: Meigs Field

7 Blunders: Readers respond

Series: 7 BLUNDERS OF CHICAGO [Chicagoland Final , CN Edition]

Chicago Tribune - Chicago, Ill.
Date: Apr 3, 2006 Start Page: 4 Section: Tempo Text Word Count: 1137

As you can see from the vote tallies on the Tempo cover, many of you chose a sports blunder as the most significant of our seven. That wasn't a surprise. What was very surprising, though, was that a lot of long, thoughtful responses came in about the lowest vote- getter -- the threat of numbing sameness overcoming the city's neighborhoods.

Architectural blunder

Thank you so much for putting into words what I've been trying to get across to my friends and neighbors for years. I have been watching my personal architectural history erased by what is essentially greed. I see everywhere in the city more and more of our buildings are disappearing only to be replaced by what could be called "shower stalls" or "starter castles." Where there was one house, they shove two. And where there were two houses they shove three.

In my yard, I used to love to watch the sun set over Horner Park. That simple pleasure has been taken away from me, and now I look west and see gray vinyl siding and a hideous garage deck. This blunder can't be rectified. But it can be arrested.

-- Thomas Gianni, Chicago

Of your seven nominees, only one of them is still in progress: building neighborhoods of "numbing sameness."

Chicago's history, from Daniel Burnham's plan to the design of Millennium Park, is one in which architecture plays a big role. Chicago is known around the world for the quality of its architecture, from the smallest residences to the Sears Tower.

Neighborhood architecture is what gives Chicago its unique sense of place and conveys the personality of each neighborhood. Change and redevelopment are both inevitable and necessary. However, bad architecture is neither.

-- Martin M.

This goes to the heart of Chicago's glaring shortcoming: its failure to recognize that urban fabric is the lifeblood of all great cities. When I go to New York and walk around SoHo with its wealth of glorious industrial architecture, Greenwich Village with its intoxicating Left Bank ambience, and Brooklyn Heights with its picture-perfect blocks, I come back here and literally ask myself where is the city? What part of Chicago really lends itself to casual strolling? I think the best cities strike the right balance between architectural fabric and architectural monuments.

It's most unfortunate that Chicago has yet to learn what may be the most important architectural lesson of all: that great architecture is not enough. This is a city whose trophy buildings have become its consolation prizes.

-- David Sikon, Chicago.

Another interesting category was one you might call "Blunders we forgot to mention." Here are some of those.  [emphasis added]

Meigs Field

One of the biggest blunders in city history was Mayor Daley's abrupt, late-night closure of Meigs Field. Ordering the cutting up of the runway in the darkness of night -- with planes still parked and therefore becoming stranded -- was an extraordinarily arrogant and unnecessary abuse of power.

Where is the continuing outrage? When will the mayor be held accountable for this gangsterlike action?

-- Rex Shannon, Chicago

I am a pilot. I own a business and two airplanes. When Meigs was alive, it was easy to pick up and drop off my Chicago employees to and from the east. Now, even these many years later, when I say that I am from Chicago, I get the "Oh, how could the mayor have done that" comment about Meigs.

And for what purpose? The universal opinion among the flying community is that the skies around our town are less safe with Meigs gone. Your list of blunders proves that stupid things can be done even in the greatest city in the world, but when wrought by mankind, they can be undone. Isn't it time?

-- Dennis E. Wisnosky,


High-rise public housing

The worst blunder, because it doomed so many people to a hopeless future, was building the high-rise projects that turned into ghettos for generations of African-Americans. They were then denied all of the benefits that the rest of the city enjoys: children safe from drive-by killings, functioning schools, jobs within their area, supermarkets and discounts stores, respectful police protection.

-- Betty Jean Thompson, Zion

I believe that two of the worst Chicago blunders were:

1. In the '50s and '60s, tearing down entire Chicago neighborhoods and replacing them with isolated high-rise ghettos. The failure to disperse low-income housing throughout the city led to housing conditions that encouraged crime and gang activity and injured and penalized the people the housing was meant to help.

2. Another blunder, probably stemming from the same motivation as above, was building the Dan Ryan Expressway with such a width and with so few overpasses in an east/west direction, so as to separate the public housing residents on the east side from the ethnic neighborhoods west of the highway.

-- Gladys N. Bryer, Chicago

I think the 16-story housing project buildings that lined the Dan Ryan and were plopped in other locations around the city are the biggest blunder ever. It's hard to even imagine that back when these were planned and built that anyone would have thought this was a good idea. How could placing tens of thousands of people into concrete boxes even be considered?

-- Tracy Timberlake, Palatine

Lyndon LaRouche

As one of the most notorious political blunders of Chicago history, I would nominate the Democratic election primary victory of two followers of Lyndon LaRouche.

As I recall, it ruined the age-old Chicago straight-ticket voting in the next general election. Precinct captains didn't know what to do.

-- Chris Donovan, Oak Park

Block 37

I think the biggest blunder of all is Block 37. The parcel of land has remained vacant for decades.

-- Erik Bloecks, Indian Head Park

How could you leave out the decision to tear down an entire block of exceedingly prime real estate in the heart of Chicago and the let it sit essentially vacant for 13 years? This goes down as one of Chicago's all-time (and ongoing) blunders.

-- Bob Faetz, Chicago

Council Wars

Your list fails to note an ugly chapter in Chicago's race relations: The Chicago City Council Wars. The Vrdolyak 29 is something that embarrassed us all.

-- Giovanni Benincasa, Chicago

Because of the racism, distrust and selfishness of the members of the "Vrdolyak 29," Chicago lost the chance to experience what might have been a real golden age under Harold Washington.

Before he died, he had started to win over some of those initial enemies and forge a coalition for significant change and improvement to improve the lives of all Chicagoans.

-- Mark Sherkow, Chicago

[Illustration] PHOTO; Caption: PHOTO: Mayor Richard Daley's order to tear up Meigs Field three years ago counts as one of the city's worst blunders for some readers. Tribune file photo by David Klobucar

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