The Chicago Reader is celebrating the 40th anniversary of its founding this year, and reprinting articles from its earlier days. The articles don’t fit the description a former Reader ad manager once gave me: “The s**t we put on the back of the ads.”
We excerpt from The Siege of Sandburg Village, and recommend reading the entire piece if you have any interest in the history of Chicago’s Near North Side. The Reader takes us back to 1953 and discussions between city planners Ted Aschman and John Cordwell:
The Gold Coast was still threatened, the shopowners on North Michigan Avenue were nervous, and the city planners were worried. Cordwell and Aschman talked of other cities where famous architects had been commissioned to build fabulous buildings in hopes of revitalizing failing neighborhoods; as in Chicago, those efforts had failed. They studied other planners’ plans and looked at patterns in dying cities, and as they studied and talked John Cordwell became convinced that these failures were not failures of architecture or design; rather, he decided, they were failures of planning strategy.
“You don’t,” he told Aschman, “drop a parachute into an area completely surrounded by the enemy. You can’t survive in a wagon completely surrounded by angry Indians. And you can’t build an urban renewal project in an area completely surrounded by blight. You have to have easy access to the area, be able to get in and out of it. You have to do ‘missionary’ work in the community you’re renewing, and you have to have a strategy for the whole area, not just the project you’re building.”
Cordwell and Aschman agreed that military strategy was called for in city planning. If Chicago were to be saved from the onslaught of deterioration, force would have to be mustered and renewal marched systematically against the blight. There would have to be a stronghold in the renewal area, an anchor from which the offensive could be launched. The Cabrini Homes could not stop the spread of blight on the near north side—the area was surrounded by the same poor, dilapidated housing that had been cleared for the project. Cordwell and Aschman decided that they had to start from an area of strength and move systematically outward. They had to invade an area, capture it, and fortify it before moving on. They had to create something strong enough and vital enough to set the renewal urge spinning off on its own. They had to, in fact, choose an area—an objective—and destroy it, level it, and begin anew.
Thus began the siege of Sandburg Village.
The video gives you an overview of Sandburg Village.