What’s Next For Lakeshore East: Pedways, Parks and Pupils

Lakeshore East

The late mayor Richard J. Daley famously referred to Chicago as “The City That Works.”  The reason the City That Works works at all is because of a complex thicket of paperwork that spells out the rules and procedures for pretty much everything that happens in the city, from the correct size of a parking space on a one-way street with diagonal parking on both sides (17 feet x 9 feet) to the number of parking spaces required of a new building within a certain distance of a CTA train station.

The document that governs the chunk of formerly muddy lakefront property known as Lakeshore East is called PD70.  Like every PD in the city, it is a living document that has been amended, revised, superseded, and tinkered with dozens of times since Skidmore Owens and Merrill’s first draft hit the mimeograph machine way back in the 1960s. And each revision has gotten more detailed as more and more parts of the property have been translated from ink and paper into steel and concrete.

But just as more items were added to PD70, some items have gradually disappeared, leading to much consternation among those who planned the rest of their lives around what seemed like an immutable promise, written down in the archives of the city clerk’s offices.  The two biggest “broken promises” according to long-time New Eastside residents are a new public school, and adequate pedway connections.

There are people who bought condominiums in the buildings surrounding Lakeshore East based on what they thought were rock-solid promises by the city to construct a public school there.  But over time, the city backed away from those promises.  The planned school disappeared from the city’s planning maps, and the reality of a cash-strapped Chicago Public Schools system made it seem an impossibility.

The pedway may seem like less of an imperative, but it’s still a hot grousing topic whenever the alderman comes a’calling.  People moved into the early New Eastside buildings like Harbor Point Tower and The Burnham believing that they would be able to walk to wherever they needed to go, safe, warm, and dry underground.  To a youngster or an outsider it’s not that big a deal. But in spite of its geographic coordinates, from an infrastructure standpoint, Lakeshore East is as isolated from downtown Chicago as the South Loop.  For much of the last two decades, the answer has been “you can’t get there from here.”  Especially if you want to go outside of bankers hours, or on a weekend.

Downtown Chicago grew up differently than most other American cities.  Its urban residential pioneers weren’t hippies or bohemians looking for cheap places to live amid squalor. They were older, well-established couples and families convinced by the late Mayor Daley to move to genteel lakeshore skyscrapers as a beachhead against the core rot that decimated places like Detroit and Cleveland.

Look at the demographics of any of the city’s great old residential towers, like the John Hancock Center or Harbor Point Tower, and you’ll understand why the condos come with hot and cold running Geritol.  Those people need to get around. For many, a car or a cab (if you can get one to stop) is just as dangerous to their health as taking a rollator to Chicago’s icy streets during a lakeshore gale.

So it was with no small sense of surprise that we noticed something new in the latest proposed revision to PD70. The school is back.  The pedway is back.  And other new amenities have been added to the map.

This latest edition bears the date June 17, 2015 and was created because of the addition of the Wanda Vista Tower to the little skyscraper village on the water.  It contains something in section 12, subsection I labeled “Public Elementary School.”

Provided the applicant is instructed to proceed by the City of Chicago, the Chicago Board of Education and the Chicago Park District, the applicant shall be responsible for the construction of a forty-five thousand (45,000) square foot portion of a fifty-three thousand (53,000) square foot structure to contain a public elementary school with space to be shared with the Chicago Park District to be substantially completed on or before June 30, 2020.

Now, that’s not exactly a slam dunk, since a developer must be compelled by the city to actually build the school.  But it’s streets ahead of where things were before, when if you asked City Hall about the school it would shrug its collective marble shoulders and say, “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”  PD70 finally specifies the size of the school, who’s responsible for building it, and even for the first time, a completion date.

But wait… there’s more.

Diagram of Lakeshore East

PD70 now also includes a handy reference to “School” on the property map.  This is in the same location as the original “School” notation on the maps from the 1970’s that mysteriously disappeared by the late 90’s.  Well, it’s back and bigger than before.

So, who’s ultimately responsible for building the school?  We’re no lawyers, and there’s a 90% chance we’re reading this wrong, but it looks to us, based on the text from the first part of section 12 that the people building the Wanda Vista Tower are.

Subareas A, B, C, D, F and G already have been substantially developed. The further development or redevelopment of properties within Subareas A, B, C, D, F and G shall be subject only to the regulations in Subsections A through G below. The development of Subarea E shall be completed in accordance with all of the regulations contained herein and in accordance with the Guidelines of the Lakeshore East Master Plan and Design Standards dated June 10, 2015.

Wanda is in Subarea E.  The school is mentioned in Subsection I.  So it looks like Wanda has to build the school. Again, we’re not lawyers, so feel free to correct us in the comments section below.  Still, broadly speaking, when you’re putting up a billion dollar skyscraper, putting together a little school across the street isn’t that big a deal.  The developers will spend more on flights to China and celebratory cocktail forks than it takes to build a public school.

The next new section (Section J) is about the pedway:

The pedestrian walkways depicted on the Pedway Level Pedestrian Walkway System Map shall consist of an enclosed all-weather walkway (as depicted on the Pedway Level Pedestrian Walkway System Map), designed to accommodate pedestrian movement at the Arcade Level and/or other levels as depicted in the Pedway Level Pedestrian Walkway System Map attached hereto. It shall be the responsibility of the applicant to provide continuous pedestrian walkways at the Arcade Level and/or other levels within Subarea E pursuant to the Master Plan and Design Standards subject to the review of the Department of Transportation and the approval of the Department of Planning and Development.

The key phrase there is “enclosed all-weather.”  Up to now, the developers of Lakeshore East have done something of a half-baked job of connecting buildings to the Pedway.  The Shoreham isn’t.  The Regatta isn’t.  The Chandler isn’t. The Lancaster isn’t.  We’ve been told that the Tides is, but it involves going in behind the security desk and taking an elevator and walking along a striped path through the parking garage.  That’s not exactly “enclosed all-weather.” The one time we tried to get there from the Swissôtel side of things, we couldn’t figure it out.

To be fair, up till now there’s been something of an air-gap problem for the pedway.  It’s called North Field Boulevard, and is the circuit breaker between kissing cousins The Tides and The Shoreham.  In Lakeshore East, the pedway is only allowed to be either at the lobby level (Upper Wacker Drive), or one level below, called the Arcade Level.  To connect the rest of Lakeshore East to the Aqua pedway would require some kind of tube or bridge across North Field Boulevard.

But as we noted in our story from last week, Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Wanda, the construction of the Wanda Vista Tower means that gap will be filled in with infrastructure.  The kind of infrastructure that can easily handle a pedway connection between the Tides and The Shoreham.  But the link won’t be between the two existing residential towers.  It’ll be a hook-up with the not-yet-built GEMS Upper School (355 East Wacker Drive).  As specified in Section K Subsection 6:

Create a pedestrian connection at the Pedway level from the east property line of the parcel occupying the western portion of Parcel D l (GEMS) to the property occupying the eastern portion of Parcel D1

In addition, the revised pedway concept map includes new connections:

  • From Aqua to Building O
  • From Building O to the Mariano’s Fresh Market
  • From Building O to the Randolph Street Pedway via 300 East Randolph (Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois Building)
  • From 300 East Randolph to 340 on The Park

Diagram of Lakeshore East

People who live in the towers along Randolph Street shouldn’t get too excited yet.  The new Pedway map of PD70 specifically lets the Wanda Vista developers off the hook for your buildings (400 East Randolph, The Buckingham, etc..), implying that your developers should have done a better job of hooking you guys up when they had the chance, and that burden won’t be transferred onto the new people.

Other new items of note, the Wanda developers are required to:

  • Fix the traffic mess at the intersection of Lower North Field Boulevard and Lower East Wacker Drive
  • Clean up Lower Wacker and make it pedestrian-friendly
  • Connect Upper East Waterside Drive to Upper East Wacker Drive (this will go through the middle of the Wanda Vista Tower)
  • Build a pedestrian connection between The Shoreham and The Tides “which shall include a terrace overlook with specialty paving, landscaping and accent lighting”
  • Build a pedestrian connection between the dead end of Upper East Wacker Drive and The Regatta “which shall include a terrace overlook with specialty paving, landscaping and accent lighting”
  • Create a nice public space at the dead end of Upper East Wacker Drive “which shall include specialty paving, pedestrian seating, accent lighting and significant landscape planters”
  • Build an elevator linking the East Upper Wacker area with the new Pedway connection and the Lower North Field Boulevard area.

But wait… There’s more!

The magical part of planning documents is that they’re forward-looking.  And if you know what you’re looking for, you can see what’s coming down the pike.  Two interesting things caught our eye:

First, the green space that we’ve long expected would be built somewhere east of North Harbor Drive and west of Lake Shore Drive is not only now officially a park, but it has a name: Harbour Court Park.  It also has a size: 17,153 square feet, or about a third of an acre.

Second, there is a plan to connect Harbour Court Park under Lakeshore Drive to the lakefront.  This is something that locals have been asking for for decades.  Right now the way you get there is to walk through an alleyway, navigate a dirt hill peppered with dog poo, walk through a sliced-open chain-link fence and cross a parking lot.  This is the route that most tourists take when they follow their noses trying to get to Navy Pier.

Third, there is a plan to replace the obstacle course above with another proper path connecting to the lakefront.  It would be at the Upper Harbor Drive level, decking over the alley, and continue through an elevator on the west side of Lake Shore Drive.

So, while a lot has happened over the last 46 years, there is still a lot of work ahead.  Both the items outlined above for the near-term future, and stuff still buried in city hall documents for the more distant future.  After all, there are still at least five more skyscrapers to come.  And if you’d like to speculate about those, enjoy the diagrams below.


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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