Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Twenty Minutes in West Town

By Kyle Fountain

Although my commute from the six flat walk up apartment I lived in, to my office in West Town Chicago was not as eclectic as Michael Sorkin’s “Twenty Minutes in Manhattan,” it was a dramatic step up from the suburbs.
Figure 1:  My Previous Residence, 900 W Wrightwood Ave

Still, my journey every morning was long enough and Chicago is integrated enough to provide a choose your own adventure approach to commuting.  For instance, depending on weather conditions, I might take the bus from Wrightwood Ave down Halsted to Fulton Market and walk fifteen minutes west.  Going home, especially when the Cubs had a night game, I would almost be forced to take the Green Line – East to the Brown Line – north, and then walk north a couple blocks home.  Full disclosure, I didn’t consistently use public transportation until last winter when my car was stuck in ice for two months.  After pouring a bag of salt, breaking a hammer, and giving the neighbor something to watch as they drank their morning coffee, I resorted to the bus, train, and walking every day.
Figure 2:  Typical Morning Fulton Market Obstacle Course

My office was tucked within three very different corridors in the West Loop.  Fulton Market was the closest stop on Halsted and an adventurous walk every day.  Lake Street was even less pedestrian friendly, and Randolph was the chosen path for coffee, or on my way home to stop into one of several celebrity chef’s restaurants, which is why it is dubbed restaurant row.
 Fulton Market is a street that is home to dozens of whole sale and individual sale butcher cold storage facilities.  In the morning from about 6:00 AM to lunchtime, the street is filled with forklifts, semi-trucks, and butchers running around with stains on their aprons filling orders for the day rendering this stretch a very exciting walk (assuming you aren’t vegetarian) and impossible for a car to travel through.  By lunchtime these places have finished for the day and the street is practically empty.  Currently, Google is moving into the largest cold storage facility in the area, the Fulton Market Cold Storage building, which I had the opportunity to watch demolition and walk through, since our office is the architect of record.  This building was completely filled with ice when demolition began, click here to see a cool time lapse of the melting process.

Figure 3:  Rendering of Fulton Market Cold Storage Building

The Lake Street walk was a path taken from the bus only on days when I didn’t want to worry about getting hit by a forklift, or worry about getting nailed by a pig on a dolly (this happened).  The stretch on Lake is filled with fast moving cars and semis coming from west neighborhoods and suburbs and speeding to work through an almost secret path between freeways.  If I had a nickel for every time I almost got in an accident on this road, whether driving, or walking… think Ferris Bueller’s Day Off – valet joyride scene, or Blues Brother’s – police chase scene.


The latter experience is one of several reasons why I believe this area will be a great fit for my thesis site.  With the introduction of a new CTA stop on Lake Street, alongside hundreds of employees moving in to the Fulton Market Cold Storage Building, and majority of the properties from the wholesale meat packing businesses, the area is changing quickly and dramatically.  I believe a structure which has the potential to evolve within an urban fabric, rather than permanently change the context, will be a model for salvaging a neighborhoods culture, charm, and uniqueness whether in Chicago’s West Loop/Town, or a similar neighborhood like New York’s Red Hook.

Figure 2 courtesy of:
Figure 3 courtesy of:
Figure 4 courtesy of: solo-female-travel-army/

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