Visiting Chicago last weekend I thought it might be a good idea to take some notes for Spacing. This would be, I thought, in line with Matt Blackett’s 2007 post and Shawn Micallef”s two posts from 2006, and after all isn’t it always a good idea to keep an eye on your sister (city)? So, in that spirit, here are some “do’s” from Chicago. Originally I thought it would be good to do an urban “do’s” and “don’ts”, but … I didn’t manage to come up with any “don’ts” in the end so looks like we’ll just have to make do with a list of “do’s”.
DO: Many tall buildings that relate to one another. While it is hardly an original point, it is always worth pointing out the vibrancy of a compact cluster of tall buildings. There can so much hesitancy in Toronto around building tall that it sometimes seems like we need to be reminded of the value of heightened density, even if only from a purely poetic perspective, never mind the practical aspects.
DO: Interesting public Art that responds to its site. Toronto has a few interesting works, most notably the Henry Moore next to the AGO, but we also have a lot of pretty horrific attempts — at any rate nothing like this great Calder sculpture, Flamingo, which engages so skillfully with the Mies van der Rohe building against which it is set. Chicago also boasts a wonderful Miro and a Picasso, both of which just serve to underline the point that we need to demand more from our public art. It is an important component of the character of a city and not something to be treated lightly. I will be interesting for instance to see what Paul Raff comes up with for the new Underpass Park.
DO: Big shiny beans. Anish Kapoor’s sculpture acts as a kick-ass gateway to Millennium Park. I find the incessant corporate sponsorship to be unnerving (this sculpture, called the Cloud Gate is located in AT&T Plaza, between the Chase Promenade and the McCormick Tribune Plaza, etc., etc.) but if that’s what it takes to fund an amenity like Millennium Park today then it is pretty hard to argue with. Kapoor apparently did not like this siting for the sculpture, but I think it couldn’t be situated better and would have been kind of lost further to the east where he had intended it.
DO: Informal markets. This photo isn’t the best but I think the Maxwell Street Market serves as a great example of the value of informal open-air markets, where the cost of being there is not prohibitive for small vendors, as can so often happen. Cities really don’t need to go much out of their way to provide for this sort of phenomenon, and when they do make a point of going out of their way it can so quickly becomes “precious”. This market, for which the city’s contribution amounts to shutting down one street and part of another, once a week, is far more ruckus than precious — you can buy anything from propane heaters to socks to Mexican wrestling masks, and while there tends to be a handful of notably hipster-looking patrons lurking about, the market has resisted gentrification, even after having been around for over 100 years.
DO: Subway entrance covers. We could do with some of these, although it would appear that our very own covers might not be that far off in the future. I just hope that the TTC realizes that there is nothing wrong with the sort of understated class in evidence here. It is possible to design infrastructure, like these handsome covers, that are neither boringly pragmatic nor going out of their way to be “flashy”.
an obvious DO: Furry bus shelters … Enough said? It turns out that this was just an ad campaign that was on while I was there, but it’s pretty awesome. Why wouldn’t Toronto want one?
Photo credits: Jeremy McGregor, Chloe Doesburg, Duncan Patterson