River City, a community for children

River City, 800 S Wells, Chicago

River City’s seen better days. The building’s teeming with foreclosures and short sales — the median price of a condo right now is $125,000, with price of one one-bedroom reaching as low as $74,000 — and last week’s rains “virtually destroyed all the electrical equipment” and flooded its garage and ground floor. It’s a sorry state for a place designed with lofty ambitions. Yesterday I skimmed the Bertrand Goldberg entry of SAIC’s Architects Oral Histories Project and found these comments about River City’s origins.

Betty J. Blum: A new city center — what does that mean?

Bertrand Goldberg: It means many things. It goes back to the fact that Harris Ward and I had spent, in the first all-electric center of Chicago, about five years in discussing and Harris in living — he lived at Marina City for a while, just to experience what an all-electric city could do; I think primarily to find out about the aspects of electric living. But Harris also in this process — who had thought that life in Lake Forest was the summa of urbanism — Harris and I exchanged enough information with each other so that he also began to share the concerns for a city in broader terms than just either electricity or high-rise or more building or whatever. Harris wanted to help rebuild or build a new concept of a city … It would have a new educational system, it would have a new transportation system, it would have a new garbage collection system, it would have a new environment of parks and water and gardens and, of course, buildings. It would be a center not only for residential occupancy but also for working occupancy. That’s what we started to do …

Blum: So how did it all take shape? I have read that you had done so many sociological studies because you wanted this to be for families, unlike Marina City.

Goldberg: Well, Marina City was for families. Don’t get into that FHA trap.

Blum: But River City was also for sandbox children with their parents and other families.

Goldberg: Right … in the high-rise that we were proposing at River City, we had made an effort to provide and really plan for children. We had a kind of rocket-ship elevator, for example, which was intended for the children to use, so that the conflicts between children and adults for vertical transportation would be at least minimized. We had playgrounds in the sky for them so that they had an area — they had their own turf. We had many, many devices for children — education for
recognizing children as people. Now, this doesn’t happen in the other highrise efforts that have been made in public housing, and we are bewildered that the children respond as they do. In the middle-class housing on Lake Shore Drive — or upper middle-class housing; however you term it — crime has not been an issue among children because they have other areas of activity in their family life. Their families provide for a kind of recognition and a kind of activity that is not provided in the housing for the poor in highrise areas.

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