Wabash Avenue Gets a 12-Step Plan to Recovery

CTA Adams and Wabash It’s no secret that Wabash Avenue in the Loop needs help. It is a dark, loud, imposing, and occasionally menacing streak running through the heart of Chicago’s tourist district. Its physical ills are a psychological barrier that keep tourists and their tourist dollars from flowing between Millennium Park/Michigan Avenue and the State Street corridor. There have been several attempts to clean up Wabash in recent years, including a very good effort in the 100 North block, between Macy’s and the Heritage tower. And the CTA’s new Washington/Wabash station is another upcoming opportunity for improvement. But clearly the street still needs help. The Chicago Loop Alliance is stepping in with a detailed plan designed to cure the ills of the thoroughfare and remove the psychological barrier it imposes on strangers. The whole plan is quite interesting, and you can read it in its entirety here. But if you’re looking at this on a crowded bus on the way to work, here are the details:

Map of proposed Wabash Avenue districts.  Courtesy of the Chicago Loop Alliance.

Map of proposed Wabash Avenue districts. Courtesy of the Chicago Loop Alliance.

  1. Divide the street into brandable districts, like the Night Life District (Wacker to Lake), the Retail District (Randolph to Monroe),  the Maker District (Madison to Adams), Art Street District (Adams between State and Michigan), and the University District (Jackson to Congress).
  2. Start maintaining and, in some cases, repurposing the street planters
  3. Repurpose old CTA L stations as mini elevated parks
  4. Extend the Loop ambassadors and street cleaners onto Wabash Avenue
  5. Extend sidewalks with pedestrian “bump outs” at the corners to reduce the time and distance it takes to cross Wabash
  6. Improve pedestrian safety at driveways, alleys, and other curb cuts
  7. Scramble crossings at Lake, Randolph, Monroe, Adams, Jackson, and Van Buren Streets
  8. Promote nearby landmarks like the Art Institute, Trump Tower, and proposed Route 66 Plaza
  9. Fix the pedestrian and vehicle crossing mess that exists at Michigan and Adams in front of the Art Institute of Chicago
  10. Enhance the views down the east-west streets to entice visitors off of Michigan Avenue
  11. Use the blank building facades around Wabash and Van Buren for innovative art murals
  12. Use shipping containers for pop-up restaurants, shops, and maker spaces
  13. Improve pavement markings for vehicles and bicycles
  14. Increase bicycle parking capacity
  15. Create an iconic lighting feature at the new Washington/Wabash L station
  16. Install vintage lighting along the rest of the street
  17. Install lighting to illuminate building facades
  18. Install an illuminated art sculpture underneath the L, running its entire length along Wabash
  19. Lower rents and change zoning on the upper floors of Wabash office buildings to attract start-up companies

Of course, the elephant in the room is who’s going to pay for all of this. At first, it will be those buildings that are already Loop Alliance members that have facades on both State Street and Wabash Avenue. After that, the CLA plans to ask nicely for buildings that would benefit from these improvements to chip in. And, finally, it may seek the expansion of an existing taxing district, or the creation of a new one, to force buildings to kick in and pay for the transformation. 236 South Wabash

Author: Editor

Editor founded the Chicago Architecture Blog in 2003, after a long career in journalism. He can be reached at chicagoarchitectureinfo@gmail.com.

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