The blight next door


Five years ago,  the School of the Art Institute of Chicago chose a landscaping class to decide where the ugliest lot in downtown Chicago was. It was decided to be next door to HWC.

The motive of the SAIC was to do more than just investigate. They promptly set their students to submit design proposals for beautifying the area.

Students submitted designs to make the area into more than a piece of art. They wanted to help start a green movement in the city by designing green walls climbing up the sides of the buildings.The high visibility of the area was to be a billboard for new ideas.

The owner, Commonwealth Edison, told people interested in the space’s rehabilitation that large power transformers that supply energy to the L are housed underground in the area.

Heavy metal plates cover the holes where the transformers are housed. Com Ed states that building on such a site is a liability.

John Madsen, an instructor of Architecture at HWC, says that the Art Institute wasn’t the only school with a class working on the issue. HWC students, under the direction of Madsen, also proposed designs for the site.

A picture hangs in John Hader’s office on the 11th floor with a design for a green wall by Lauren Reed, a student from Madsen’s green design class. The design seems doomed to die on that wall, as it is deemed too dangerous to allow anyone access inside the fence protecting the site.

“It’s kind of tough for us because we’re a 2 year college,” Hader said. “These things don’t happen quickly.”

“If it was your money or my money we’d pull it out, slap it on the thing and say ‘let’s go do this,” he said.

As a matter of funding, ComEd has shown previous interest in supporting some of the changes.

Mark Shouger, general manager of The Wit hotel and member of the Chicago Loop Alliance, says The Wit and its owner Double Tree by Hilton were also very interested in rehabilitating the site.

“We had about $50,000 from Double Tree to invest into this effort,” Shouger said. “This effort has to be led by the students and the schools.”

Shouger  expresses worry that the community, and Com Ed, would question the hotel’s interest as purely self-serving. He emphasizes that The Wit is willing to work closely with anyone willing to take up the project.

“I think Com Ed still wants to move on this … ,” Hader said.

Commonwealth Edison has not responded to interview requests.

by Taylor Lilly

Contributing Writer