Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Human Scale in Chicago

It's important for us to start discussing at a deep level the city's assets and how they can empower us to move rapidly toward a zero-carbon lifestyle.

I've just finished watching for a second time the wonderful film by Andreas M. Dalsgaard, The Human Scale, and I'm having a "Eureka!" moment. The ultimate secret to a "zero carbon Chicago" will not be bike lanes or solar panels or novel physics or botanical spaces -- though all of those things will be important -- but rather walking and remembering.

The Human Scale makes clear that the key to liveable cities is putting design in support of the experience of pedestrians, and taking into account the power of memory in affording quality of life.

Chicago Theater
Goodman Theater
It was easy, as I left the movie theater, to think about walkability. My short walk to my bus stop was through a recently repaved alley that connects the landmark Chicago Theater marquee and that of the Goodman Theater. From that spot, I could trace some of the best walks in Chicago -- building after landmark building; sculpture by some of the giants of the art world.

But then I thought further about part of the movie describing the rebuilding of Christchurch, New Zealand, after the 2011 earthquake. On of the architects profiled in the film was talking about the importance of memory our experience of the city: "That's where I first saw my girlfriend; two doors down is the coffee shop where we first had coffee together."

Marc Chagall, The Four Seasons, Chicago

I thought about Chagall's mural "The Four Seasons." It is located at Monroe and Dearborn, in the plaza of Chase Bank -- what some of us remember as 1st National Bank of Chicago.  I love it not just because it's beautiful, and because I so often have the opportunity to walk by it on my walks through that beautiful neighborhood, but also because of memories.

"Pas mal, eh?"
Chagall, The Four Seasons (detail)
One memory in particular makes me smile. Back in the days when I was involved in a lot of China-related activities in the city, I was riding back from a television appearance with a former 1st National Bank of Chicago president and China hand, Norman Ross. As we rode by "The Four Seasons," Norman spoke of his memory of being with the Chagall at the dedication. "We were side by side, just as you and I are now," said Norman, "And Chagall nudged me with his elbow, and gave a nod in the direction of the mural, and said, 'Pas mal, eh?'"

During the summer, "The Four Seasons" becomes part of one of the great "living rooms" of the city: Chase Plaza. It's a place where anyone can come and eat their lunch, read the paper, get a tan, people watch, enjoy the sounds of the fountain, and meditate on great art.

Chase Plaza, Chicago

All of this is within blocks of the buildings that mark the birth of the skyscraper. A great way to get oriented is with an architecture walk by Chicago Architecture Foundation.

Chicago: take a walk and let the memories begin.

Related posts

I'm marveling at the adjacency of a piece of public art -- one with a very clear message about the risk of human ambition and self-absorption and heedlessness -- to the center of political power in the city of Chicago.

(See NUCLEAR WEAPONS: Who will bring us down to earth? )

The city contains masterpieces of landscape architecture, with a strong focus on wildflowers.

(See One Word: Wildflowers )

Vibrant neighborhoods like Logan Square are part of the human scale of Chicago.

(See Occupy Palm Sunday! in Logan Square)