Ever since I moved to the South Loop in 1994, density has been a dirty word. For some reason, many of my South Loop neighbors seem to think they are entitled to rural–or at least quiet surbrban–living in downtown Chicago.
What’s interesting is that many South Loop abodes have incorporated a quiet, leafy lifestyle where one would never know that just beyond the house, loft or apartment is life that is hectic, harrowing and havoc-laden.
There seems to be a trillion buildings proposed for the South Loop. (Some say the overabundance is due to greedy developers who aim to beat a deadline that will bring a higher requirement for affordable housing.) Thousands of dwellers in high-high-high-rises–some even proposed to be built on top of other buidlings and railroad air rights–are soon to be moving in, the reports all say.
And a lot of people who are already here are screaming. About everything from ugly shadows and blocked views to just plain too many people in too little space.
But is density bad? As bad as some South Loopers have made it out to be–with turned up noses, raised voices, rolling eyes and plenty of tsk-tsks?
According to some things I’ve been hearing and reading lately, downtown density is good. Really good for the core of a city. And like it or not, the South Loop is part of the core of Chicago. How can it be bad if families, empty nesters and young people crowd in in droves?
The first clue I had that there is something to be said for density was a few weeks ago when Chicago Loop Alliance hosted a panel discussion centering on the topic. Density is Good for the Loop–and for downtowns everywhere–the panel insisted. You want a world-class city? You better have a lot of diversity downtown: of people, buildings and activities therein. And the panel seemed to have the goods to back it up.
So I perused a few articles on the subject–and they all said the same thing. You want less of a carbon footprint? Bring on the people–the more the merrier will bring on terrific public transportation, less emissions and more efficiency.
Increasing the number of people per acre in a city goes a long way toward greening goals, said others.
Density of residents increases the skills, wealth, talent, innovation, happiness, growth and income therein, the articles explain.
One caveat: when density becomes the word in a city, don’t leave the heavy lifting to the developers. Don’t let them empty the TIF-funds without an infrastructure that can hold it all. And an eye to detail overall.
I see no reason why the infrastructure of the South Loop can’t hold what’s coming. And the residents and the pros should weigh in–and influence the aesthetics.
But that’s another story. And hopefully it will be a pretty one.
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