As any city grows and changes, there are tensions between public space and private property. In Chicago, it is not uncommon for what is technically private property to be required to be open to the public. Often, it’s part of the local government’s effort to give people sunlight and breathing room in the nooks and crannies of the city where it’s needed most.
Good examples include the big lawn next to 311 South Wacker Drive. The owners of the 65-story building are required by city ordinance to make that space available to the public at least 14 hours a day, Monday through Friday; and a reasonable amount of time on weekends and holidays.
Bad examples include the Boeing headquarters at 100 North Riverside Plaza, which is infamous for chasing tourists and other pedestrians off of the public slab of Chicago Riverwalk that runs past its building.
A measure of that public-private tension is available along other slices of the riverwalk, especially where outdoor cafes have sprawled over their allotted boundaries and into what few realize is public space.
So that’s why we found a recent memo from the Chicago Department of Planning and Development interesting. It seems that multi-state dining octopus Lettuce Entertain You wants to add a nice trellis to its Portofino Pizzeria, which is on the river side of the skyscraper currently known as 321 North Clark. 321 also includes a public easement that allows you and me to walk along the river between Clark and Dearborn Streets.
The the city is allowing the trellis, but Lettuce has to maintain a 4½-foot-wide space between the support beams for the trellis and the riverwalk wall so that pedestrians can permanently perambulate in proximity to the pizzeria.
We’ve seen several examples of outdoor restaurants placing passive visual cues of ownership such as maître d’ stands, tents, tables, and other items in the public way in order to keep the public from wandering through “their” dining rooms. Since we are enormous, scary looking, and not easily intimidated, we saunter right through these scenes, accumulating stink-eyes from the managers.
Interestingly, the memo from the city to the restaurant’s lawyers includes the line, “your client has agreed to remove the awning and box sign on the bridge house, which were unlawfully established, before installation of the new trellis.”
So the next time a performance at The House of Blues inspires you to buy exotic home furnishings at The Golden Triangle, you don’t have to dodge the cabs behind the Westin to get there. Take the scenic route along the riverfront, and breeze right past the pizza people. The smells are free.