Clybourn Corridor Citizens Cry: Toss Bathwater, Save Baby

The heart of the Clybourn Corridor (Image from Apple Maps)

The heart of the Clybourn Corridor (Image from Apple Maps)

Last night the first public meeting was held to discuss the future of the Clybourn Corridor  — the former industrial zone along the Chicago River that in recent years has been encroached upon by upscale residential development.  It was hosted by Second Ward Alderman Brian Hopkins and 43rd Ward Alderman Michele Smith at DePaul University.

The specific target of the discussion was Planned Manufacturing District 1, the area running a dozen or so blocks up the east side of the Chicago River, bounded by North Avenue, Clybourn Avenue and Shakespeare Avenue.  The city has been encouraging the heavy industries that were once located there to move out.  For the most part they have, with notable exceptions.

Though the land is a perfect example of a brownfield, its location close to downtown, sandwiched between two upscale neighborhoods, and right on the river has real estate developers drooling at the opportunity to work their transformation magic.

But what you might think would have been a witch hunt by neighbors eager to oust the existing industries in favor of yoga studios, coffee shops, and juliet balconies turned out to be something else.  You might even describe it as “compromise.”

During the public comment period, there were few of the expected calls to abolish PMD1 and replace it with gentrification-friendly zoning.  Instead, the word of the night was “modify.”  The majority of speakers want the Planned Manufacturing District zoning modified to encourage mixed use development, including light to medium manufacturing.  The reason?  Jobs.   While cleaning the polluted bathwater, they don’t want to throw out the jobs baby.

As noted by Mike Holzer, executive director of North Branch Works, the area has a 96% occupancy rate.  He echoed the sentiments of others, especially those in nearby Logan Square, who don’t want the jobs to leave the area.

There are exceptions. Like General Iron, which was called out by name by several people  who accuse the scrap yard of excessive pollution.   But the majority would like to see the area developed into a combination of light manufacturing, a tech hub to compliment the research facilities next door on Goose Island, and a location where mid-sized companies who can’t afford Loop rents can have their headquarters.

What they don’t want is for high density residential and big retail to replace the heavy industries.  Both of those are seen as potential contributors to an already exasperating traffic situation on arteries like North Avenue and Fullerton.   There is a general feeling that there’s plenty of other places available to put up high rises.

What people do want is more transit, and better streets.  And they expect the price tag for the neighborhood’s infrastructure improvements to be picked up by real estate developers, not the city.

But the big question on everyone’s mind last night remains unanswered — What will become of the Finkl Steel property?  At this point, it’s anyone’s guess.  Alderman Hopkins noted that the property is still owned by Finkl, even though the steel mill has moved to the city’s south side.  And while demolition crews have largely cleared the land, there are no formal plans for its redevelopment at this time.

Below is a list of some of the more interesting or common thoughts posited by the public during the meeting:

  • Alderman Hopkins wants to do a test of new dynamic, smart traffic lights on North Avenue, which it is claimed can increase traffic capacity by 21%
  • If there is widespread redevelopment of PMD1, it’s an opportunity to straighten out the street grid, which will help with some of the traffic problems
  • The removal of industrial traffic should help relieve traffic in some small way
  • Rapid transit (light rail or L expansion) just isn’t going to happen
  • One resident would like to see a very large motion picture complex built, and claims that Hollywood types complain they can’t work in Chicago because there is no large facility for them
  • More bridges across the Chicago River to relieve congestions, specifically at Armitage and Southport
  • More buses
  • A modernized Metra station
  • Water taxis
  • More parks
  • Access to the 606

If you have thoughts on the future of the Clybourn Corridor, the next meeting is Monday, June 6 at UI Labs on Goose Island at 1415 North Cherry Avenue.  Be there at 6:00pm.


Location: Clybourn Corridor, Goose Island

Author: Editor

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

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