The year 1973 brought us the Oil Crisis, Agnew’s resignation, the first season of Schoolhouse Rock…and the above rendering depicting a rejuvenated south State Street in Chicago’s downtown.
State Street was in serious trouble then, with the Magnificent Mile and suburban malls usurping the street’s economic might. Something had to be done, and the Chicago Central Area Committee*—a group of downtown business and civic interests—created this vision of State Street as part of a wider long-range effort to improve the city, called the “Chicago 21 Plan.”
Looking at the rendering now, and it’s easy to laugh at the elements that are of it’s time—that shout “1973”. Like those cars, lumbering up and down the street without as much as a care in the world for the oil embargo that was about to hit. Or the woman on the right with her back to us: that is a double-knit pants suit, I just know it. I also bet the elevated train on the left is monorail. Why? Because there was always a monorail in plans back then. The overhead walkway looks like it was swiped from a Habitrail set.
But look a little closer and there are some great ideas here, many of which came to pass albeit in a different form. This new State Street is a mixed-use thoroughfare with residences above retail. Wide sidewalks encourage pedestrian movement—and look how wide the planted parkways are. Squint a little and you can see a movie theater (marked “Cinema” to the left), and on the right, a bookstore and a delicatessen. High rise buildings anchor the street and bring the densities needed to make all that stuff work.
Almost 40 years later, these concepts are still landing on State Street, proof that good ideas never die—but they can grow some gray whiskers while awaiting their turn.
(*Full disclosure. I am currently executive of the Chicago Central Area Committee. But I was only 8 and in 3rd grade when this plan was released.)