Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Downtown Drift

Chicago is a model of a successful Rust Belt city transformation. Much of the urban redevelopment, both theory and practice, we see now is a legacy of that dramatic rise to global prominence. Today, Chicago is mining its own past for a way forward:

Owners of art spaces in the area like Maya-Camille Broussard, co-owner of Three Peas Art Lounge, are hoping the area will become the city’s next gallery district, she told the Tribune, “There’s no true defined art collective here in the sense that Pilsen is known for galleries. The West Loop is known to have galleries…South Loop isn’t”. ...

... South Loop gallery owners remain optimistic but the economy will likely determine the success of revitalization efforts. Catherine Edelman, a gallery owner in River North and president of the Art Dealers Association of Chicago told the Tribune: “In the heat of a recession its pretty doubtful that you’re going to see people relocating because that costs a great deal of money." She added, "There has to be a reason for people to migrate and migration happens when people are unhappy with the amount of money they’re paying for square footage, and/or they see something exciting in a new area and they want to join that experience."

The heart of the Chicago renaissance is once again aiming to be an urban frontier. The core is a dynamic environment, shifting from neighborhood to neighborhood. Baltimore provides a dramatic example:

While no one is saying this eastward shift is the death knell for Baltimore's traditional downtown, there is concern that moves such as Legg Mason's, while a boon for the areas where companies are moving, have the opposite effect on areas where companies are leaving.

Boitnott, of the Waterfront Coalition, said she worries about the ramifications of intense waterfront development on older areas such as the city's Westside, where the 1914 Hippodrome Theatre was restored.

"I think downtown is getting worse," she said. "My husband and I went to the Hippodrome the other night and tried to find a place to have dinner, and it was a dead zone. A lot of things that should have stayed downtown have moved out."

Baltimore's traditional downtown is once again a frontier space. Count me among those who see this as indicative of urban economic health and proof that Baltimore is heading in the right direction. The old core is full of new opportunities that will help revitalize the entire region.


Unknown said...

Doesn't RF contend that Chicago's rise is a result of the concentration of power from nearby cities? And isn't Chicago therefore as much a cause of the rustbelt as a solution to it?

Jim Russell said...

I'd characterize Chicago as the city the last round of globalization built and there's more than a bit of truth to the economic geography you describe. But the Rust Belt existed long before Chicago's renaissance. Thus, it can't be a cause.