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What’s the Significance of the Color Scheme for the Argyle Shared Street?

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The Argyle Red Line station. Photo: John Greenfield

In a recent post about the grand opening of the Argyle Shared Street, a pedestrian-priority makeover of Chicago's Southeast Asian shopping and dining district, I wondered out loud whether the red, green, and orange hues in the new streetscape were inspired by the vivid colors of the Vietnamese cuisine for which the strip is famous. Later I ran the question by Chicago Department of Transportation spokesman Mike Claffey, who put me in touch with Ernest Wong, an architect with Site Design Group, which designed the shared street.

"While I appreciate the reference to food and the vibrancy of Vietnamese cuisine, the streetscape elements took on a more cultural reference," Wong explained via email. "We were following the graphic colors from the original [Argyle 'L' station] signage posts that were selected through a community process.

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A pedestrian island, high-visibility crosswalk, and neighborhood identification pillar was added on Argyle at Broadway. Photo: John Greenfield

Wong said that, in general, however, colors have significant meanings in Vietnamese culture:

For instance, orange represents energy, green represents calmness/springtime and new beginnings, red is a celebratory color, which represents good luck and scares away evil spirits, and yellow (and red) are traditional colors for prosperity.  Golden yellow has its own meaning with references to royalty, but has taken on a new meaning of freedom and patriotism for a lot of the Vietnamese expatriates. 

So there you have it. While the streetscape palate may bring to mind gỏi cuốn spring rolls and bánh mì sandwiches for hungry visitors, it has a much deeper significance for the folks who turned Argyle into a bustling retail district. Hopefully the slower vehicle speeds and increased pedestrian space created by the people-friendly redesign will make the strip even more successful.

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