“Last week, the Tribune’s architecture critic, Blair Kamin, stepped down after 28 years in the role, preceded by a stint as a news reporter for the paper, two books, and a Pulitzer Prize.
“Kamin’s beat is one that evolves slowly, because building things takes a long time, and the ramifications of our built environment take even more time to become apparent. So Chicago has been lucky to have Kamin in his job for this long (as well as his predecessor, Pulitzer-winner Paul Gapp, the newspaper’s first architecture critic, who was there for 18 years). For nearly three decades, Kamin has been able to absorb and influence the changes to our buildings, parks, transportation, and policy. That’s important in every city — but especially in Chicago.
“[Whet Moser] spoke with Kamin about his time covering our built environment.
“Your Pulitzer was based in part on a series about the lakefront and how it could be improved. What’s your impression of how things have changed since?
“I’m really gratified at the changes that have occurred since the series appeared in 1998. The most important changes have to do with Burnham Park, which is south of Roosevelt Road and encompasses the Museum Campus and McCormick Place and the parkland to the south of it. In 1998 that area was separate and unequal. Compared to Lincoln Park in the north, it had less parkland, it had less amenities, it had worse access. Everything about it was worse than the comparable stretch of Lincoln Park to the north. And that was clearly a matter of race. The Chicago Park District followed a policy of so-called benign neglect, because the neighborhoods to the west of Burnham Park were largely poor and Black. And it was an outrageous situation.
“Since then, it’s really been corrected. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent to expand the parkland and add new features: fishing piers, a marina, beaches. There are new pedestrian bridges over Lake Shore Drive, replacing the rickety outdated bridges that had been there. Another one is going to start construction this year, I believe at 43rd Street. That’s a really dramatic change. It’s taken 22 years to achieve and the project is still ongoing.
“But that’s not the only change that’s occurred as a result of the series. It also looked at Grant Park and its split personality: how it was jammed and vibrant during the summer festivals and pretty much dead otherwise. And since, with the idea of improving daily use as our mantra, there’s been an enormous change within Grant Park. That’s been fueled in large part by Millennium Park and now Maggie Daley Park, but other parts of Grant Park have come alive as well. In those years [since 1998], you think of Lollapalooza — I mean, I’m not taking credit for Lollapalooza, but Grant Park is a much more vibrant place than it was 20 years ago. And that was a key part of the series.
“In Lincoln Park, and on other parts of the lakefront, I was really glad to see Ken Griffin spend [what] I believe was $50 million for separating the bike paths and walking paths. That’s a change that I’ve experienced personally, since I ride on the lakefront all the time. The biggest disappointment has been southward. There have been wonderful plans sketched for South Works, but nothing has come of them. And it remains this huge site of huge potential but unrealized visions. I very much hope that in the next 20 years, that will change and that part of the south lakefront will really see the same kind of transformation that Burnham Park has witnessed.” Moser, Chicago Magazine, 1/22/21)
Preservation Chicago wishes to extend our very best wishes to Blair Kamin and thank him for all of his many articles relating to historic preservation and the Chicago Lakefront. He was strong and respected voice and his column will be greatly missed.
Blair Kamin’s Exit Interview; The Tribune architecture critic, who stepped down after 28 years last week, on the failures of high-rise public housing, the transformation of the Loop, and Chicago’s biggest obstacles to an equitable built environment, Whet Moser, Chicago Magazine, 1/22/21
Architecture Critic Blair Kamin Gives an Exit Interview; After announcing his departure from the Chicago Tribune on Jan. 8, the Pulitzer Prize–winning architecture critic Blair Kamin, Hon. AIA, reflects on his tenure, Chicago architecture, and his favorite projects, Edward Keegan, Architect Magazine, 1/13/21