This article was on the front page of the January 1, 2000 edition of the Northwest Indiana Times. Mark Kiesling of the Times interviewed planners Dan Coffin and Craig Hullinger about our ideas for the future of the Chicago metro region.
Region of our Dreams
Chicago folklore says the city got its name from the word chicagou, which in the language of the native Indian population means "land of the stinking onion," a nugget of information that, for some reason, never makes it into the brochures for tourists.
One can only imagine the word the Native Americans who once populated this area might use if they returned to see the steel mills, refineries and other heavy industries that have dominated the local skyline since the beginning of the 20th century.
If we could pop a miraculous anti-aging pill and live to see the end of the 21st century (and who says we won't?) how dramatically will the face of the Region have shifted from what we see today?
In the event those miracle pills aren't developed or if you just can't stand to wait 100 years to find out, we'll board a flight of fancy and cruise over southern Cook County, Lake County and Porter County to see how they could look in the year 2100.
Our pilots are Craig Hullinger and Don Coffin, planners who specialize in urban and suburban infrastructure and the economy of development, but who otherwise seem fairly normal.
So grab a seat next to George Jetson, fasten your belt for takeoff and open that tiny pack of peanuts because we're departing on Imagination Airways from Gate F, as in future. Or as in far-fetched, whichever you prefer.
SOUTH WORKS: Build a cleaner 'gateway' to the region
We begin our journey at what Hullinger calls "The Gateway To The Calumet Region," which is in fact an actual gate. To be precise, it's the gate at 89th Street and Avenue O in Chicago, where generations of steelworkers entered the once-mighty South Works of United States Steel.
No one in the 1950s could have imagined the sprawling South Works, where tens of thousands were employed, would be a barren field of broken concrete and rusting steel by the end of the century, but that has been its fate. When the steel industry took its nosedive around 1980, South Works was phased out as the company updated its nearby, more modern Gary Works. (By then Gary Works had become South Works' only customer.)
Decades of industrial pollution are going to make it a Herculean task to clean the South Works site for habitation, but hey! no problem for our imagination.
And now that it's clean, Hullinger sees a freshwater harbor on the lakefront site with non-polluting light industry, parkland and condominium developments overlooking the harbor and the shore.
A spur line from the existing Illinois Central commuter line, which now ends at 91st Street, will run right into the development and bring its residents and vistors to and from jobs in the Loop. Shipping on the nearby Calumet River will remain and be developed. Hullinger pointed to a huge ocean-going freighter coming in and said, "Some people might not like it, but I think a lot of people wouldn't mind looking out their window and seeing something like that."
LAKE MICHIGAN: A new road that hugs the lake would be nice Leaving the new harbor, head out south to what is today a massive landfill at 138th Street and the Bishop Ford Freeway (Interstate 94). Today's trash, tomorrow's treasure, Hullinger writes in his book, "Dreams and Schemes: Plans to Improve the Chicago Region."
He sees a major forest preserve on the landfill with toboggan slides (pointed away from the expressway, we presume), mini ski slopes and a scenic overlook. Topping it all would be a "major piece of sculpture" that would give the area an identity. A train station from the South Shore Railroad would be built, with a spur running here.
"Chicago," Hullinger says, "needs a mountain." From the harbor, we can also drive along the scenic Lakeside Drive, opened sometime in the mid-21st century and running from the South Side of Chicago along the lakeshore clear to Michigan. It's not like downtown Chicago's Lake Shore Drive, but more of a scenic cruise like the Blue Ridge Parkway or Skyline Drive through the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.
The cruise will be scenic, but not all dunes, lake and prairie. Some of the scenery will be the majestic steel mills, which Coffin said will remain major players in the local economy throughout the next century. They'll be cleaner and leaner, he said, but the notion of a steel-less Region is not likely nor is it desirable.
The drive will cross Gary's Miller Beach neighborhood, into the state and national lakeshores in Porter and LaPorte counties and into Michigan City before it enters Michigan. In what will be Indiana's last remaining death penalty crime, Chicagoans heading to weekend retreats in New Buffalo will be forbidden from jamming up the parkway.
KANKAKEE RIVER: And how about a better roadway for the south, too Drop down south, way down. No, that's Atlanta. Come back up a little. Yes, right there on the banks of the mighty Kankakee River, which runs between Kankakee (who'd have thought!) and South Bend.
In his book, Hullinger envisions a Kankakee Office Research Park at the Kankakee end of the river tied into Kankakee Community College and adjacent to the airport. Along the river, he envisions the Kankakee River National Park with land acquired from owners along the banks and returned to its natural state.
Crisscrossing the area between the Lakeside Drive and the national park are bike trails that also tie into those antiquated bike paths dating from the late 20th century to form a huge cycling network.
For those whose stamina does not allow them to bicycle daily between Naperville and Detroit, Hullinger envisions the extension of Interstate 355 from where it ends now southbound at I-55 in Bolingbrook through the southern suburbs, into the middle of Lake and Porter counties to loop up again and join I-94 east of Michigan City.