Excerpts from the 2000 ULI Uptown Study
OVERVIEW AND SUMMARY
Uptown has long been and continues to be a point of entry for immigrants to the Chicago area. In addition, many longtime Chicago residents make their home, earn their living, and pursue their education in Uptown.
The word "diversity" is used throughout this report to characterize Uptown. The panel strongly believes that the preservation of this rich diversity provides an underlying strength that will enable Uptown to develop an entertainment district, improve and expand its business core, and revitalize the community as a whole.
Uptown's other major asset is its magnificent architectural heritage. The Uptown Theatre is the crown jewel of the district. Indeed, it is one of the most outstanding theaters in the United States. In addition, the Aragon Ballroom, the Riviera Theatre, and the district's many terra-cotta facades make an aesthetic foundation upon which to build.
Uptown also is favored by a desirable location near Lake Michigan, excellent public transportation infrastructure, highway access, and mostly stable and attractive housing stock. Uptown should be well positioned to ride the coattails of the Chicago region's strong economic growth.
A few preliminary observations on some basic issues are pertinent.
Finding Common Ground
The panel noted significant tensions between different elements in the community, including philosophical differences between the two wards, conflicting opinions among developers and advocates for the economically disadvantaged members of the community, and the unwillingness of some ethnic groups to work with others. There are truths and visions about which men and women of good character and conscience will differ, but at the end of the day, if all possible objections to any undertaking need to be resolved, then nothing can be accomplished.
It is incumbent upon the business, political, and nonprofit agencies in the community to use this report as a basis for a public visioning process that seeks to give everyone a voice, to reconcile differences, and to move ahead in establishing a plan for the neighborhood. The panel intends this report to be used as a starting point, not as a definitive final statement.
The panel was struck by the diversity of the Uptown community, the abundance of its historic buildings, its multiethnicity, the variety of its housing, and the mix of retail and entertainment uses. The well-known urbanist Jane Jacobs has argued that diversity and density are the prerequisites for successful urban life. The Uptown community has both, and they represent strengths upon which Uptown can build. Different elements in the community may feel threatened by this diversity, but, in the panel's opinion, it contributes to the vitality and potentiality of the district.
Working in Proactive Partnership
None of the panel's recommendations will succeed without the committed involvement and support of the public sector. Local government can help put together layers of financing, use its powers for zoning and land assembly, provide essential services, approve plans, and construct infrastructure improvements. Without this assistance, little will be accomplished.
The private sector can bring indispensable resources and talent to the table. And nonprofit organizations can provide their constituencies not only significant services, but also a voice in the decision-making process.
Thinking Long Term and Seeing the Big Picture
The panel's report is not intended as a recipe for an immediate transformation. The report should be used as a springboard. It suggests directions that can be followed, but results will not be achieved overnight. The panel encourages patience. Stakeholders should take a long view of the revitalization of the Uptown area and see the broad picture of its evolution.
In response to its assignment, the panel makes the following key recommendations.
Preserving Historic Properties
Developing a District
Organizing the Community