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The Chicago Brand


I've lived all over the country and world, my background is in International Affairs, Political Science, and Economics, and I'm a Chicago boy born and bred.

To our readers' enjoyment, I'm going to argue with Ted some more about the new bike rack plan.  I agree with some of Ted's arguments (I'd have nothing wrong with an initial test run), on other points, however, we don't see eye to eye.

First, the little things.  I do enjoy the classic-ness of the street signs of San Francisco, but if you're going to make the argument that one similar style of street signs equates to a city brand, then you're going to be talking about most cities.  Chicago streets signs, though ugly, are all green and white (except for our honorary street signs, which too can be a brand of the city: honorary streets - go street names of people nobody has heard of).  When it comes down to it, when I think of SF, I think of the Golden Gate Bridge or the Trans Am building, and when tourists think of Chicago they think of the Bean or the Sears Tower.  So even though I think decorative bike racks will bring tourists to Chicago, it's not because of the uniqueness of the brand image it makes on Chicago.

Second, a plan such as this one is very uniquely Chicago, and a brand in it of itself.  Since Chicago became a city in 1837, and then once the first European immigrants migrated here in the 1840s, this city has been very regionally segregated.  The Irish lived in the south; the Germans lived in the north.  Over time, as more immigrants moved to Chicago (Czechs, Poles, Russians, Jews, Greeks, Swedes, Danes, Mexicans, etc.), they too took a piece of Chicago and made it their own.  Therefore, creating neighborhood-specific bike racks, is merely celebrating our unique Chicago heritage, or if you will, the Chicago brand: "The City of Neighborhoods."  During the olden days of Chicago, you could tell someone's racial, religious, and social status, by where they lived.  Today, you know someone's sports team preference, hairstyle, bike style, and drink of choice, by where they live.  Different, yes, but still demonstrates the vast differences of our neighborhoods, and something worthy of celebrating.

I will concede one point to Ted.  The goal of this bike rack plan should be to increase bike parking throughout the city, and then to beautify our streets.  The unfortunate truth is that these bike racks will be all over downtown, the North side, and the near West side, but most likely won't venture too far South.  If bike racks are a public good, which they are, there should be some way to equally distribute them throughout the city.  However, because this plan will be as much for the artists as it will be for the cyclists, an artist's rack won't get much walk-by traffic in Altgeld, for example; and those Chicagoans need bike racks too.

Overall, it's a matter of preference.  But just like in baseball, my preference is always right between Ted and me: Go Sox!



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carfreechicago said:


I tend to agree with Ted. I don't know if either of your are aware of it, but New York City somewhat recently designed a new bike rack for their city, and I think it's an incredibly beautiful piece of simple industrial design: http://exhibitions.cooperhewitt.org/Why-Design-Now/project/nyc-hoop-rack

I also think an iconic piece like that can help foster civic and bike pride (or "branding") in a way that a random collection of one-off designs can't. This could go down in history as the iconic New York Bike rack, an international symbol of biking in New York, just like the iconic New York paper cup is a symbol of streetside coffee vendor culture in Manhattan.

Ted Rosenbaum said:


I actually had heard about the new NYC rack. I didn't want to bring it up because 1, it's not (yet) iconic, and 2, I don't think Chicago needs to rely on an international competition to get a great design. I still think a compromise with a lot of cool one-off designs plus choosing a Chicago Standard to phase in over time is the way to go though.

Separately, I didn't know that paper cup was iconic New York, but then, I don't drink coffee--and drink even less of it in New York. Live and Learn, I suppose.

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