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Can We Keep Chicago's Lakefront Sacred By Adding More of It?

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As George Lucas recently discovered, developing on the lakefront and challenging the "forever open, clear, and free" concept is controversial at best. Trying to set up on sacred ground isn't always the best way to get your museum built. But what if the best way to protect the lakefront might actually be to make more of it? A very speculative concept by architects at PORT Urbanism — expanding Lake Shore Drive east to create more land — may amount to touching the third rail of Chicago urban design. But as they point out, reshaping the shoreline is far from unprecedented, and actually fits into a long history of man-made expansion into the Lake.

The Big Shift concept originated as part of the Chicagiosms exhibit at the Art Institute last year, which explored Chicago's history of architectural innovation and speculated about its future. Inspired by the idea that crisis provokes innovation, the team (Christopher Marcinkoski, Andrew Moddrell, Brandon Biederman, Chi Yin Lee and Ryan Hernandez) looked at how privitization of city assests such as parking meters depleted city coffers, and considered how the city's most valuable asset, the lake, could serve as a remedy. Extending Lake Shore Drive east to create 225 acres of prime real estate could potentially add $62.5 billion in land value to the city (of course, this is before factoring in the cost of such a massive engineering feat).

"We looked at the land from south of Navy Pier to the museum campus, and thought, 'how can we change it without wiping out Grant Park?,'" says Moddrell. "If we extend Lake Shore Drive East, then we would actually make Grant Park into more of a Central Park."

It's obviously a stretch in many senses of the word, and Moddrell admits it's controversial ("people will hate us for touching the untouchable"). But it's not without precedent. From adding rubble from the Chicago Fire to create Grant Park to building Navy Pier, roughly 1,000 acres have been added by filling in the lake throughout Chicago's history in numerous ways, including signature parts of the skyline such as Soldier Field and Lake Point Tower.

"We put the idea forward and it was provocative, but the edge of the lake has constantly changed," says Marcinkoski.

"We understand this is highly speculative," says Marcinkoski. "It's missing a true infrastructure problem that informed other changes to the lakefront, as well as a bit of a rationale."

"But it fits into some of the other ideas floating around about redefining Lake Shore Drive," says Moddrell. "There's an ongoing process to understand how to bring LSD into the 21st century."

·Previous Parks and Rec coverage [Curbed]
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