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Circular Sculpture Is the Cherry on Uptown’s Complete Streets Makeover Sundae

6:20 PM CDT on May 10, 2019

The project reconfigured the Racine/Broadway intersection to create a new plaza. Photo: John Greenfield

Today city officials cut the ribbon on a multicolored ring-shaped sculpture in the Uptown Entertainment District, the crowning touch on a street remix that converted excess asphalt at Racine Avenue and Broadway into a new pedestrian plaza. The makeover was part of the Broadway streetscape project, which includes new sidewalks, street repaving, lighting, bike racks, garbage cans, crosswalks, and a pedestrian island near the new plaza.

The first phase of the project involved upgrades on Broadway between Leland Avenue and Gunnison Street, and Lawrence Avenue between Broadway and the Lawrence Red Line Station. The second phase starts later this month and will cover Broadway from Leland to Wilson avenues.

Photo: John Greenfield

The lead designer for the $6 million streetscape project was Transystems, with Altamanu serving as the landscape architect. Altamanu worked with local artist Lowell Thompson on the design of the sculpture on the plaza in front of the Riviera theater.

The old street layout at Racine Broadway included a pork chop-shaped pedestrian island, and required pedestrians coming from the southeast to make multiple street crossings to get to the Riviera. The new configuration eliminated the stretch of Racine next to the theater, connecting the island to the "mainland" to create the new plaza, which also includes bike racks and a couple of small trees.

Screen Shot 2019-05-10 at 5.26.15 PM
The old street layout. the makeover eliminated the stretch of Racine in front of the Riviera. Image: Google Maps

The entertainment district, which also includes the Aragon Ballroom and the Green Mill jazz club, got a boost last year when the city announced a $75 million project to rehab the 94-year-old Uptown Theatre, which has been shuttered for 35 years.

During this morning's ceremony, local alderman James Cappleman, who narrowly won reelection in the April runoff, said the new plaza and sculpture are part of a series of transportation improvements in the neighborhood, including the recent reconstruction of the nearby Wilson Red Line station, and the upcoming Red and Purple Modernization project, which will rebuild the Lawrence, Argyle, Berwyn and Bryn Mawr stations in Uptown and Edgewater to make them wheelchair accessible.

Emanuel, artist Lowell Thompson, and Cappleman. Photo: John Greenfield
Emanuel, artist Lowell Thompson, and Cappleman. Photo: John Greenfield

Emanuel stated that the multicolored ring symbolizes the diversity of our city, with some 140 languages spoken by Chicago Public Schools students. "This is ushering in a new renaissance in the Uptown neighborhood," Emanuel said.

Chicago Department of Transportation commissioner Rebekah Scheinfeld, who announced earlier this week that she'll be stepping down when Emanuel leaves office on May 20 (and departs on a bike trip around Lake Michigan), said at the ribbon-cutting that it has been "an honor and a privilege" to work on street improvement projects like this one. Scheinfeld noted that the intersection remix is a great example of taking away asphalt from cars to create more public space for people.

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