The bus-rapid transit in the Brazilian city of Curitiba, where double-articulated buses able to carry up to 270 passengers zip along dedicated lanes and stop at sleek glass tubes that serve as station. Photo via The Chicago Tribune.
Last year, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel nominated a celebrity chef and an obstetrician to join the city’s landmarks commission. An architect, meanwhile, was nowhere to be found. And though Emanuel found time to commission Jeanne Gang and Chris Lee to design some new boathouses along the Chicago River, architecture and design has generally been an afterthought in his administration. Now, as Chicago lays out plans for its next big infrastructural expansion, many, including Chicago’s conglomerate of architecture societies, are showing concern for the evidently low priority design has on the mayoral agenda.
According to the Chicago Tribune, Emanuel’s proposals to secure private investments for the development of a bus-rapid transit (BRT) and the extension of the existent CTA Red Line has been gaining momentum since Tuesday, when the Chicago Department of Transportation announced that the Rockefeller Foundation has agreed to shell out $485,000 for the big push.
The tiled and arched ceiling at Chicago's Grand Avenue subway station designed by architect Carol Ross Barney, who is part of the team planning the Chicago BRT. Photo via The Chicago Tribune.
While the news seems like a victory for Chi-town’s urban design proponents, the details of the plan may be cause for reassessment. It seems that Emanuel has opted for the basic package when it comes to improving Chicago’s infrastructure. Granted the mayor’s new Chicago Infrastructure Trust must work with a modest $11 million budget, the expansion plans will be introducing only a small stretch of dedicated bus lanes and a rather lackluster prototype for bus shelters with bare bones amenities, including an information kiosk, a bike rack, and a tacked-on decorative planter. In other words, while improvement is on the agenda, innovation runs dry.
Blair Kamin of the Chicago Tribune sees this conspicuous lack of design as a missed opportunity, saying “If Emanuel wants to make his infrastructure trust truly transformative, good design should be an essential part of the package, not an afterthought.”