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Urban Patterns | Chicago, Illinois USA

Urban Patterns | Chicago, Illinois USA
by Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A

Chicago is the third-most populous city in the United States with over 2.7 million residents. It is also the most populous city in both the state of Illinois and the Midwestern United States. The Chicago metropolitan area – commonly referred to as “Chicagoland” – has nearly 10 million people and is the third-largest metro area in the United States after New York and Los Angeles. In terms of wealth and economy, Chicago is considered one of the most important business centers in the world. The town of Chicago was organized in 1833 with a population of about 200 near a portage between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River watershed. Within seven years it grew to more than 4,000 people. In mid-1835, the first public land sales began and the City of Chicago was incorporated in 1837. For several decades, Chicago was the fastest growing city in the world, making it was one of the five largest cities in the world by end of the 19th century. Before the growth of new Chinese cities during the 21st century, the urban growth of Chicago in the 19th century was largely unprecedented in human history (Source: Wikipedia).

Satellite view from 90km of Metropolitan Chicago, Illinois in the USA (Source: Google Earth).

Chicago has the most pervasively-realized, regular grid street network in the world. In fact, the scale of the regular grid in Chicago is so large that it is almost impossible to truly appreciate its scale. From one extreme to the other, it is about the size of southeast England or the European country of Luxembourg. However, it is only by examining the Chicago urban pattern at the very large scale (for example, satellite view from 90 km above) that we can appreciate there is a distinctive center-to-edge logic to the metropolitan region; most notably along the alignment of the Chicago River/Stevenson Expressway from the Loop in a southwesterly direction. This diagonal logic is replicated at the large-scale in the northern metro area as well along the alignment of old Indian trails, which were incorporated as roads into the urban fabric over time; most notably a series of diagonal streets associated with the Northwest Highway in north Chicago.

Satellite view from 25 km of Chicago, Illinois in the USA (Source: Google Earth).

When we zoom in on the Chicago urban pattern (for example, satellite view from 25 km above), the crucial role of the Chicago River as a water-based transportation artery in the city becomes much more apparent. So does the multitude of skyscrapers in the central business district of “The Loop” (north and west of Grant Park on shores of Lake Michigan). We can also see the large building footprints of many Industrial land uses gathered around the entire length of the Chicago River from the southeast into the center of the city and then northward. All of these topographical, geographical, and infrastructural components are woven together with the ‘relentless’ regular gridiron logic, which serves to privilege downtown Chicago (and The Loop, in particular) within the metropolitan urban pattern in the city. This begins to barely scratch the surface of why the Chicago urban pattern plays such a significant role in its magnificence as one of the greatest cities in the world.

Urban Patterns is a series of posts from The Outlaw Urbanist presenting interesting examples of terrestrial patterns shaped by human intervention in the urban landscape over time.

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PRE-ORDER NOW | The Syntax of City Space

The Syntax of City Space: American Urban Grids by Mark David Major with Foreword by Ruth Conroy Dalton (co-editor of Take One Building) is now available for pre-order from Routledge, Amazon, and other online retailers. Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group will release The Syntax of City Space: American Urban Grids in November 2017.

Many people see American cities as a radical departure in the history of town planning because of their planned nature based on the geometrical division of the land. However, other cities of the world also began as planned towns with geometric layouts so American cities are not unique. Why did the regular grid come to so pervasively characterize American urbanism? Are American cities really so different?

The Syntax of City Space: American Urban Grids by Mark David Major with Foreword by Ruth Conroy Dalton (co-editor of Take One Building) answers these questions and much more by exploring the urban morphology of American cities. It argues American cities do represent a radical departure in the history of town planning while, simultaneously, still being subject to the same processes linking the urban network and function found in other types of cities around the world. A historical preference for regularity in town planning had a profound influence on American urbanism, which endures to this day.

Download the Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group European promotional flyer here.

The Syntax of City Space: American Urban Grids is available for pre-order purchase with Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group, Amazon, Waterstones and Foyles in the UK as well as other online retailers around the world.

Visit our Books for Sale page here.

About the Author
Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A is a Professor of Urban Design at the Savannah College of Art and Design. He is a graduate of Clemson University, University College London, and the University of London.

The Syntax of City Space: American Urban Grids
by Mark David Major with Foreword by Ruth Conroy Dalton
Hardcover, English, 260 pages
Routledge, First Edition (November 2017)
ISBN-10: 1138301566
ISBN-13: 978-1138301566

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MORESO | Generational Shame in Twin Peaks

Most reviewers and fans are heralding “Gotta Light?”, episode eight of Mark Frost/David Lynch’s Twin Peaks: The Return (or Season 3 for us nerds) on Showtime, as the most ambitious and weirdest WTF hour in television history; rightly so. As with all things David Lynch, “Gotta Light?” has invited widespread theorizing on the Internet about what all of the symbolism might mean. However, everyone so far seems to miss a potent, alternative interpretation about what Twin Peaks has really been about all along; namely, Lynch’s generational shame as a Baby Boomer. Think about it.

WARNING, SOME SPOILERS AHEAD IF YOU HAVE NOT SEEN EPISODE EIGHT, “GOTTA LIGHT?”

People point out the similarities between the more abstract, middle section of “Gotta Light?” – when Lynch takes us into the heart of a mushroom cloud at the 1945 climax of the Manhattan Project, which the episode title and request of the Woodsman to strangers repeatedly evokes – to the closing ten minutes of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. They point the obvious anti-thesis between Arthur C. Clarke/Kubrick’s optimistic vision (“My God, it’s full of stars.”) versus Lynch’s more pessimistic one (‘My God, it’s full of blood’ literally and metaphorically). According to Lynch’s vision, evil in the form of the spirit “Bob” was born in 1945 with the first atomic detonation. Of course, Lynch implies such a thing while adopting the quintessential Baby Boomer attitude, i.e. nothing important happen before 1945, it is all about ‘me’ (us), and so forth. Such is the nature of Baby Boomers.

However, this symbolism also offers a clue for viewers to understand that Twin Peaks might have always been about Lynch’s Baby Boomer shame.

Really, the cultural phenomenon of Twin Peaks is due to one thing: Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee); specifically, the haunting image in the opening scenes of the first episode, e.g. a dead, beautiful young girl wrapped in plastic.

Who was Laura Palmer? She was the promising, archetypal image of Generation X? The straight-A student, prom queen, and volunteer for the less fortunate (‘Meals on Wheels’, Audrey’s brother) with a secret life and troubled pysche due, of course, to her Baby Boomer parents.

Who murdered her? Her Baby Boomer father, Leland Palmer, who was possessed by the evil spirit “Bob”, who we now know (thanks to “Gotta Light?”) was born in the fires of the atomic denotation in 1945, e.g. the chronological origins of the Baby Boomers themselves.

There’s more. Typically, the most important Generation X characters of the original series (Shelley, Donna, James, Audrey, Maddie, even Bobby Briggs and Laura herself) are good, innocent, or misunderstood. Shelley’s abusive husband, Leo Johnson, doesn’t fit but we’re never sure if he is a young Baby Boomer or the oldest of the Generation X characters. The Baby Boomer characters are divided into good (Ed Hurley, Norma, Sheriff Truman), eccentric (Gordon Cole, Hawk, Andy & Lucy, Log Lady, Nadine, Pete, Sarah Palmer), and nefarious/evil (Leland Palmer, Ben and Jerry Horne, Catherine Martell, the Renaults, Windom Earle, and so forth).

Indeed, David Lynch’s Twin Peaks character Gordon Cole is famously hard-of-hearing. Basically, he is representative of an entire generation.

Finally, in the opening scenes of “Gotta Light?” (before everything gets really weird), we witness the murder of Cooper’s doppelganger. The Woodsmen (see header image) appear and engage in a strange ritual, apparently extracting the evil spirit of ‘Bob” as a fetal orb from the body of DoppelCooper. This bloody scene reeks of abortion imagery. Abortion, of course, is one of the most enduring legacies of the Baby Boomers via the Roe v. Wade decision. Lynch’s symbolism in this scene is ambiguous, to say the least. The Woodsmen’s abortion of “Bob” seems to bring DoppelCooper back to life, i.e. children of Baby Boomers (i.e. Generation X) are evil and abortion ‘saves’ lives. However, the character Ray (who shot DoppelCooper) observes this ritual in absolute, moral horror. This ritual apparently allows the evil spirit “Bob” to endure in the Twin Peaks universe, which can’t be a good thing.

In response, the (presumedly) benevolent beings watching over the events of 1945 create a golden orb, which contains the face of Laura Palmer. Because the image of the Earth is black and white, we assume this golden orb was sent to Earth in the same time period as the ‘birth’ of the evil spirit Bob in 1945. However, this is a leap of logic (if such a thing can be said about Twin Peaks). We know time, as we understand it, has no meaning in the White Lodge (probably the setting during this golden orb scene) and Black Lodge. Does this golden orb represent the inherent promise of Generation X, which Baby Boomers still endeavor to squander, even murder today?

There is much in the episode “Gotta Light?”, in particular, and Twin Peaks, in general, to suggest David Lynch is attempting to express the collective shame of his entire generation for fü©king over so much, including an entire generation of their promising, unwanted ‘latchkey kids’.

Moreso is a new series of short ruminations or thoughts of the moment, usually of less than 500 words, from The Outlaw Urbanist.

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MORESO | A Tyranny of Criminals

The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” – Thomas Jefferson

When there are so many laws that everyone is a criminal, then we are living in a tyranny. Have you gone seven miles per hour over the speed limit? You are a criminal. Have you watched copyrighted material without paying its owner? You are a criminal. When you were 18, did you had sex with someone who was 16 or 17? Congratulations, you are a sexual offender. Have you jaywalked? You are a criminal. The insidious genius of a tyranny is convincing the people that their status as criminals is in their own best interests.

About the image
Liberty Leading the People (La Liberté guidant le peuple in French) is a painting by Eugène Delacroix commemorating the July Revolution of 1830, which toppled King Charles X of France. A woman personifying the concept and the Goddess of Liberty leads the people forward over a barricade and the bodies of the fallen, holding the tricolor flag of the French Revolution in one hand and brandishing a bayonetted musket with the other.

Moreso is a new series of short ruminations or thoughts of the moment, usually of less than 500 words, from The Outlaw Urbanist.

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PHOTO ESSAY | Country Club Plaza | Kansas City MO

PHOTO ESSAY | Country Club Plaza | Kansas City MO
Photographs by Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A

Opened in 1923, Country Club Plaza is a privately owned American shopping center in the Country Club District of Kansas City, Missouri. The center consists of 18 separate buildings representing 804,000 square feet of retail space and 468,000 square feet of office space. The standalone buildings are built in a distinctive Seville Spain theme and are on different blocks mostly west of Main Street and north of Brush Creek, which blends into the Country Club neighborhood around it. The area as a whole is often simply called the “The Plaza” (Source: Wikipedia).

It is all-too-easy to examine the figure ground of building footprints (top, above) and conclude that Country Club Plaza is defined by ‘strong edges,’ especially to the south (Brush Creek) and east (Mill Creek Park). However, this is misleading and less important than the relationship of ‘edge streets’ to the larger context of Kansas City in all directions. In fact, the spatial logic of the Plaza area (and Country Club Plaza, in particular) is simple, yet quite sophisticated. A central cross-axis (cardo and decumanus) defines the local catchment area (in black, see below).

Central cross-axis defining the local area relationship and the layered ‘edge streets’ defining the larger contextual relationship to Kansas City in all directions.

A series of sequential ‘edge streets’ defined the relationship to the larger Kansas City context with the one closest to Country Club Plaza tending to split along the southern, eastern and western edges (in blue) for the purposes of traffic management. This includes Ward Parkway running parallel along both sides of Brush Creek (see below).

A series of major streets (in red, see above) farther afield – West 43rd Street to the north, State Line Road to the west, Gillman Road to the west, and West 55th Street to the south – define another edge to the Plaza area. It is this second edge that is the more important one for Country Club Plaza to access a regional catchment area since the cross-axis of the local catchment area reaches to each of these edge streets, helping to structure of the relationship of Country Club Plaza within a much larger area. The Plaza neighborhood itself then uses a series of streets of low/moderate length and connectivity within the interstitial areas formed by this classical morphology to generate its distinctiveness at different scales of movement (automobile, walking/biking) within Kansas City.

Looking north along Broadway at the corner of Nichols Road (Photograph: Mark David Major).

Plentiful on-street, short-term parking (2 hours or less) helps to slow down the traffic on the streets within Country Club Plaza itself though some road section improvements (central landscape medians instead of continuous left turn lanes) might prove more beneficial for the area over the long term.

Looking west along 47th Street at the corner of Wornall Road in the small public space associated with the Neptune Fountain (Photograph: Mark David Major).
Looking southwest along Broadway towards Brush Creek from the small square associated with what is called the Mermaid Fountain (technically, the fountain depicts sirens, as indicated by the ancient megaphones they are holding) (Photograph: Mark David Major).
Looking west through the small public square at the southwest corner of Pennslyvania Avenue and Nichols Road. I call this “Penguin Square” because of the three bronze statues of penguins at its center (Photograph: Mark David Major).
Looking west across the outdoor patio for the Gram & Dunn restaurant at the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and Ward Parkway across the street from Brush Creek (Photograph: Mark David Major).
Looking south down Jefferson Street through the outdoor eating plaza of Kaldi’s Coffee at the corner with Nichols Road (Photograph: Mark David Major).

Country Club Plaza makes very clever use of public squares and plazas (often in conjunction with fountains, for which the area is renowned) by turning over some of its most valuable parcels (street corners or “100% location”, according to William Whyte) for public uses. Some of these street corner spaces also operate as outdoor patio seating for restaurants and coffee shops. Most are quite successful, which emphasizes the greater importance of ‘people watching’ than enclosure for a successful public space.

Streetside entry to interior parking building on Nichols Road near the corner of Broadway (Photograph: Mark David Major).

As pointed out by numerous New Urbanists over the years, Country Club Plaza provides for a generous allocation of off-street parking by ‘burying’ parking structures within the center of urban blocks. This is necessary due to the lack of an extensive rail transit system in Kansas City. The KC Streetcar, opened in 2016, has a limited route in downtown Kansas City. However, once that rail transit system expands, then Country Club Plaza would be an ideal candidate for a station; preferably in the central block, which is mostly composed of off-street parking and smallish, single-story retail space along the street frontage at this time (right of the photo below).

Looking west along Nichols Road at the corner of Central Street outside of Starbuck’s Coffee (Photograph: Mark David Major).
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