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Renewing and Reviewing Downtown

By Scott Smith on Sep 1, 2005 1:02PM

Despite the swirl of scandals that threaten to envelop Mayor Daley, one bulletproof accomplishment cited by his defenders is the revitalization of Chicago’s downtown area. Over the past week, the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times have examined the changes in the Loop and beyond.

The Chicago Sun-Times carried a five-part series entitled The New Downtown that2005_09_01_chicago.jpg traces the progression of downtown from the unveiling of the Picasso sculpture in 1967 to the present. Arguing that downtown has become its own neighborhood, Mayor Daley credits the city’s cultural events for maintaining a vibrant presence beneath the skyscrapers. Indeed, part three in the series explores the city’s classical music, art, and theater scenes. On the horizon, the Sun-Times sees the West Loop, Block 37 and high-profile architecture projects as the trends to watch.

One of the biggest architectural undertakings in the last decade was Navy Pier. Last weekend’s Sunday Chicago Tribune traced the rebuilding of the Pier from a dilapidated landmark to a thriving tourist destination. Successes of the rebuilding effort include the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, the Chicago Children’s Museum and the Pier’s many restaurants. The Skyline Stage is painted as a huge failure as is the building itself, which Tribune architecture critic Blair Kamin calls the “shopping mall by the sea.”

Speaking of disappointments, we’re a little underwhelmed by the Tribune’s nominations for the 7 Wonders of Chicago. Obviously, the wonders of Chicago should be as majestic and great as the city itself so it’s to be expected that we’ll see the Sears Tower and Millennium Park on the list. And the individualism of Chicago is represented by the Water Tower and the Chicago-style hot dog. But the Chicago theater scene? And the El? We’re as romantic about the El as you can get but more often than not, the only “wonder” that comes into play is when we “wonder” which part of the tracks we’ll be sitting on when we’re “experiencing a delay.”

What are your Chicago wonders?