06 January 2010

The Chicago Underpass

taken from flickr eight double


Over break, I have begun searching my hometown for methods that communities may combat blight. Underpasses are often neglected. Urine smells, stains, garbage, and pigeon droppings often litter these spaces. Of recent, moves have been made to counter their banality. For instance, while some may see a salt stain, the religious faithful see Mary  - in a white shroud - beneath the Fullerton viaduct underneath the I-94 Kennedy Expressway. Since 2005, believers have sustained a homemade shrine adorning the wall with religious imagery and flowers. Day and night, followers come by the site to enliven this wall.

The Bryn Mawr and Foster viaducts beneath Lake Shore Drive commissioned the Chicago Public Art Group to create murals depicting the neighborhood history. These mosaic murals use brightly colored tiles and some mirror like pieces to catch passers attention. Pedestrians and bikers may find this friendly but a driver may find a glare bomb awaiting on a sunny day. High Pressure Sodium lights currently disservice these murals at night, rendering them yellow. Yet the intent to use these walls as community gates provide a welcome gesture for the cars and people entering.

Lastly, a third area looks at the Irving Park viaduct beneath the Kennedy Expressway. CDOT has lit the area and double fenced it to deter vagrants from taking shelter. Chain link is used inside, while wrought iron and brick "nicens" the intent. A brightly lit sidewalk and dual fencing protects the pedestrian from the dark recesses.

I begin to ask the basic questions for these interventions: who made it, who should be attracted/deterred, and why is something lit in a certain way? In conclusion, vacancies can be treated as an invitation or barrier that can shape one's experience of passage.

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