The Urbanophile Speaks in Chicago
Today Aaron Renn--more commonly known by the moniker The Urbanophile--spoke at the Chicago Cultural Center on the future of public infrastructure in Chicago. I've been following Aaron's blog of a little over a year now, and he never fails to offer well-written, lengthy, thoroughly-researched articles about various urban issues.
Needless to say, I was excited to see Aaron talk in person. His lecture was on "the past, present, and future of transportation and quality of space in downtown Chicago." He mostly focused on what has been done by the current Mayor Daley to fix up the downtown. First he showed some old pictures of State Street from back when it was a bus-only boulevard. He then showed the radical transformation that has taken place since it was opened back up to cars and planters were installed along with new lighting fixtures and better 'L' entrances. His main point was that small, cheap improvements can make a world of difference when it comes to how a street looks and feels. He then continued to go through photos of various parts of Chicago that have been improved in the last twenty years, including Wacker Drive and Millennium Park.
Aaron then talked about the present. He made the point that although Chicago used to be the leader when it came to downtown revitalization, in recent years our city has fallen behind. Chicago now spends more time continuing to do what we have done in the past instead of innovating for the future. Aaron suggested Chicago do two things to keep current: to implement a city-wide bikesharing program and to create protected bike lanes. Both investments would be relatively cheap ways of improving our city. The bikesharing program would be great for both commuters and tourists to get around the city. This program would be very inexpensive (if not free) as long as they city found a company to sponsor the program (as London did). The protected bike lanes could be done with some paint to start. This small change in bike infrastructure could have a serious positive impact on the bike ridership in Chicago. It has the potential to grow the number of bike commuters as well as increase the number of tourists on bicycles since they will feel more comfortable in the bike lanes than they do on our streets right now.
It was a pleasure listening to Aaron speak. For everyone in the Chicagoland area who wasn't able to come out to the lecture today, the Chicago Architecture Foundation is sponsoring a debate titled "Chicago Public Transit: On Track Or Derailed?" this upcoming Tuesday, April 12th, at 6:00 p.m. at Cactus Bar and Grill. Aaron Renn will be among the participants, which includes Lee Bey, Christopher Robling, Stephen Schlickman, Mary Wisniewsk, and Edward Lifson.
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