Adapting to change: high-rise buildings

By JoAnn Fastoff Blackman

Some people like ’em, some don’t. Some people live in ’em, some won’t.

The world’s first high rise, the 10-story Home Insurance Building in Chicago, was built in 1884. While its height is not considered very impressive today, it was at that time. High-rise buildings became possible with the invention of the elevator and cheaper, more abundant building materials.

The image of the high-rise building after WWII was associated with American strength. Currently, in Asia where high-rise buildings are plentiful, their image represents a status of power and supremacy. From the Tower of Babel to Hyde Park’s high-rise buildings, we humans have always aspired to build to ever greater heights.

If you ask a seasoned Hyde Parker why he/she lives in Hyde Park they might say that Hyde Park boasts an impressive collection of historic, and relatively affordable, single-family homes and mid-size apartment buildings, along tree-lined streets and vibrant commercial corridors, with local retail and dining.
Then you might ask a newcomer to Hyde Park the same question and the answer might take a little longer: less expensive than the north side; located near the center of the city; provides a better commute to work; my high-rise has a variety of amenities, including laundry services, pool, convenience store and even a small cleaners located in the building, and a impressive view of Lake Michigan.

The Windermere on 56th Street was a grand hotel built in the 1920s and painstakingly restored as an apartment building in the 1980s, keeping such original features as a copper cupola and a marquis roof over its driveway. The building’s west shoulder is now being eclipsed by Solstice on the Park, a 26-floor apartment complex designed specifically with energy efficiency in mind.

According to Michael Buxton, an urban planning expert, “Tall buildings offer increased profits for developers, however, the higher a building rises, the more expensive the construction. Tall buildings inflate the price of adjacent land, thus making the protection of historic buildings and affordable housing less achievable.”

The irony is most apparent when considering the newest hotel in Hyde Park, The Sophy, is built nearly adjacent to the kitchen of the oldest house still standing in Hyde Park.

What is it about a high-rise building that ticks off some people? Maybe the answer lies in its image.

Stephanie Franklin, manager of the Nichol Park Advisory Council and a long time Hyde Parker says, “Some of the high-rise buildings make other spaces seem smaller because those spaces can no longer see the sun and no longer have the vista or sense of space. The number of diverse kinds of shops we use to have in Hyde Park allowed browsing; no longer, because there is now so much traffic (due to high-rise congestion) and people are not stopping to take advantage of our retailers.”

Tiffany Paige, owner of Modern Cooperative on 53rd Street, says she moved from Pilsen to Hyde Park and into a high-rise because “My business is here and my partner and I fell in love with Hyde Park and the people living here. Although we had initial concerns (noise and unfriendly neighbors), we love it. It’s close to my business, has front desk security, a non-smoking building, we don’t need our car and the architecture is fantastic. The view of the lake is tremendous. After living here for two years my concerns have been dashed.”

Peter Cassel, director of community development at Mac Properties, notes “(H)igh-rise apartment buildings offer many things to many people, including …access and accessibility…(and) development without displacement. Built on former parking lots, Solstice on the Park and City Hyde Park each help foster growth among both market-rate and affordable renters in Hyde Park. From a sustainability perspective, high-rise living is one of the greenest ways to reduce household carbon usage.”

Some say a city is best viewed at eye-level. Others say views from a high-rise can be stunning. Low-rise living is often best for those who like a cozy, private atmosphere and maybe a yard. On the other hand, if you enjoy the bustle of the city, luxurious amenities and access to service at all hours, a high-rise may be your answer.

In Paris, France, there are no buildings taller than 100 feet because the city supports continuous retail along the street, making every neighborhood walkable based on the idea that you lose sight of the human-scale in high-rise neighborhoods.

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JoAnn Fastoff Blackman is a long-time HydeParker and an award-winning author of both fiction and non-fiction books. Her various blogs have focused on environmental issues in and around Chicago. HPChamber Speak will appear weekly addressing issues impacting Hyde Park’s business community.