At first glance, the Chicago Cultural Mile ("Where Culture & Commerce Meet") resembles nothing so much as a gerrymandered congressional district.
According to its website, this officially arty and mercantile stretch begins at
Why the serpentine path? Why not keep going south, all the way to Motor Row, between 2200 South and 2500 South Michigan Avenue, the stretch where one used to be able to buy more than 100 makes of automobile, the stretch where many of those historic buildings (including the home of the Chicago Defender) still stand and the stretch that has perhaps the most obviously dynamic potential for tourist-oriented, entertainment-centered economic development in the entire city of Chicago?
Like many such districts, congressional and otherwise, the Chicago Cultural Mile is an inherently artificial entity — Chicago self-evidently has many a cultural mile — designed to promote specific business and nonprofit interests and, of course, designed not to impinge on the jurisdiction of others. The reason for the weird turns is to link such big lakefront museums as the
Let's stipulate that the weird trajectory of the Chicago Cultural Mile is indicative of a problem in cultural Chicago, which McCarter knows as well as anyone: the continued lack of a graceful, logical curve (be it path, rail or road) to get visitors from Michigan Avenue to the steps of the Field Museum and the
But that's not a reason for the Cultural Mile to leave Michigan Avenue.
Motor Row, its natural destination, sits right next to the
However, if you go and stand on Motor Row this week, none of that will be in evidence. But you can smell the potential. Motor Row could be the grittier Chicago equivalent of
If (let's hope once) Motor Row gets fired up, the next problem will be that of connective tissue. People will want to walk back to the Loop — safely. I took part of that stroll the other day. The northbound trek on South Michigan Avenue allows you to drink in the majesty of the approaching city with singular intensity, a consequence of being hemmed in by tall buildings but discerning broader vistas ahead. It's an asset that will need to be exploited.
Just think, you can walk past the original smoke-filled room at the Blackstone Hotel, snack at the Artist's Cafe, cut your locks at the Headrest Barber Shop, ponder the fusion of Hot Woks and Cool Sushi, take a tour at (or of) the Chicago Architecture Foundation and eat a burger at one of the few
You'll also see the work that needs to be done. The Studebaker Theatre languishes, unloved and unrestored on the Cultural Mile. The
And there are dead blocks aplenty — including the most pivotal one. The northerly start and end of the Chicago Cultural Mile is marked, on the west side of Michigan, by an empty, blacked-out storefront. And all those pretty lights start on the other side of the river. Of course, that's someone else's jurisdiction.