Restringing the Emerald Necklace

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Urban planning in Chicago experienced a major trauma last year, and another major upheaval may be in the making. Last year Chicago failed, in embarrassing fashion, to win the 2016 Olympics. The proposal monopolized urban planning for a couple of years. No other major event or initiative has taken its place to galvanize thought about the city’s physical environment.

In a few months Chicago will elect a new mayor, the city’s first new mayor since 1989. Conventional wisdom says Mayor Daley will be succeeded by Rahm Emanuel, a politician who has never had to think much beyond wards and congressional districts. As mayor, he (or whoever wins the election) will need a crash course in building zones and transportation systems.

To refocus urban planning on the post-Olympics, post-Daley era, MAS Studio and the Chicago Architectural Club have launched Network Reset: Rethinking the Chicago Emerald Necklace, a single-stage international competition eliciting proposals to revitalize the city’s boulevard system. The Emerald Necklace, as the boulevard system is supposed to be called, was conceived as a sort of highway system for carriages, affording smooth horse-driven transport around the city. Today the boulevards are functional but unlovely.  Horse-drawn carriages gave way long ago to homicidal taxi drivers.

The Network Reset competition is anonymous and open to design students and professionals everywhere. To enter, start by asking yourself these questions:

What if the system becomes a new transportation corridor in the city? What type of transportation would that be? What if the open space becomes an active layer and not just a passive one? What if this system provides activities that the city as a whole is lacking? What if the system becomes a tool for social cohesion? What if the system has a strong visual identity? What if it becomes an economic catalyst for the neighborhoods? What if the system is all of this and more?

The winners will be announced in March 2011. All entries will be published in the forthcoming issue of MAS Context. Submission guidelines, evaluation criteria, and other details can be found here. The deadline for entries is February 21, 2011.

Photo above: Western Boulevard at 54th Street, from the Network Reset competition resources.

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