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UIC Plan Seeks to Make the Campus a Nicer Place to Walk, Bike and Hang Out

Rendering of proposed mixed-use housing and a new event lawn on the campus.

The University of Illinois at Chicago recently released its master plan to guide the university's vision for changing and growing the physical infrastructure of its west and east campuses. Serving over 31,000 students and 10,000 employees, UIC benefits from its proximity to downtown plus the CTA Blue and Pink lines and bus routes. The plan outlines some key ways the campus can improve in terms of its streetscape, pedestrian accessibility, and transit access. Some of the suggestions aim to enhance the walking experience and others are more designed to enhance recreation and leisure for the student body and visitors to UIC.

The plan focuses on three areas of the campus: East Campus South, East Campus North, and West Campus. The West Campus encompasses the UIC hospital and healthcare facilities. One of the proposals is to improve the Taylor Street streetscape to enhance the pedestrian experience between Damen and Ashland avenues. The plan suggests making sidewalks a consistent width and using a uniform paving material, eliminating street parking; and widening the street tree, planting, and street furniture zone along the curb. Additionally, the plan suggests incorporating best practices for stormwater management. If you’ve ever walked this stretch of Taylor, it is that clear that sidewalk improvements are needed to make it more pedestrian-friendly. I usually avoid biking along this segment of Taylor because of the confusing layout.

Taylor St map
Proposed street furniture and aesthetic enhancements on Taylor Street,
Proposed street furniture and aesthetic enhancements on Taylor Street,

In addition to streetscape improvements, the plan proposes improvements to the Pink Line's Polk Street station and the creation of a new train station hub to create a recognizable entrance to the West Campus. This could include food services and other Illinois Medical District welcome services. UIC also wants to reinforce the location of west campus by placing a pair of UIC-branded red metal pylons at Ashland and Taylor as a gateway.

For East Campus-North, which is the area closest to Halsted and Harrison streets, UIC is focused on leveraging the corner of Halsted and Harrison Streets as the location for future buildings and transforming the Central Quad to be more pedestrian-friendly and interactive.

The suggestions for the Central Quad are to add a lawn at the center of the space to direct pedestrian movement around the perimeter. Permanent low seat walls and seating at the height of a bar would ring the sunken law. Other ideas for the quad are the addition of movable furniture, fire pits, and a wintertime ice rink. UIC also wants to add an event lawn featuring fixed and movable seating.

Rendering of the proposed innovation and entertainment district.
Rendering of the proposed innovation and entertainment district.
Rendering of the proposed innovation and entertainment district.

The intersection of Halsted and Harrison streets is being reimagined as a portal to include a welcoming entry plaza. New campus gateway markers would be installed on Peoria Street just as the campus boundary begins south of the Blue Line's UIC-Halsted station.

For East Campus-South, UIC wants to improve the pedestrian experience along Halsted Street between Roosevelt Road and Taylor streets by establishing a campus portal and providing a new pedestrian path that would connect pedestrians traveling from South Campus to East Campus.

Some of the suggested improvements make sense to me, particularly the ideas on enhancing the walkability of the campus and the surrounding areas. Other proposals seem to be about making UIC campus more of a place to hang out and recreate than it’s historically been, particularly because of its longtime status as a commuter campus.

As the plans move forward, it’s important for UIC to be mindful of the history of urban renewal. Large sections of the heavily Italian-American Harrison-Halsted neighborhood were demolished to make room for the campus in the early 1960s. So it's important for the university to consider how to be a responsible neighbor to its surrounding communities, particularly because the plan also outlines the demolition and replacement of existing buildings. Especially since UIC is a public university, the question should always be how the changes are going to affect the lives of everyday Chicagoans.

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