CN Sep 14 2017

We spend most of our time on Chicago Newsroom focused on Chicago’s myriad budgetary, educational and social problems. But there’s no denying the dramatic construction boom that’s enveloping so much of our city’s central region and at least a few of its more affluent areas.

That’s the focus of today’s show. And our guide through the thicket of aerial construction cranes is AJ LaTrace, editor of Curbed Chicago.

“So, what we keep track of is current high-rise construction,” he explains. “And we measure that as buildings that are 100 feet or taller. So we just recently updated it within the last couple of weeks and we counted 54 buildings. And you know it’s amazing, because when we first started doing this around three years ago or so, I can’t remember the exact number but it was about 12 or something like that. And we just thought, oh this will be kind of fun, we’re in double digits now, but now we’re approaching dozens.”

Of course, there’s plenty of debate about why this development is concentrated in so few places while some neighborhoods can’t even get a branch bank or food store. But the construction boom that’s completely remaking our central city  is a very real thing.

Leading the way in this construction boom is the conventional, not-very-exciting or cutting edge apartment tower. That’s what dozens of those tower cranes are building. They’re not inspiring or significant, but they are money-makers, LaTrace says. And that’s what most developers craze. Its what the Tribune’s Blair Kamin has called “Form Follows Finance”

And, LaTrace tells us, those apartments, in the tens of thousands, are selling. “They call it the absorption rate, so you know, right now it seems like there are people to fill these buildings,” he explains. “As soon as that slows down obviously that’s when things are going to change, but you know, if Chicago keeps on this pace of new corporate investment and sort of job corporate outposts and things of this nature, I mean there’s a chance this could keep going on for another couple of years.”

And, he adds, if by some chance Chicago manages to land Amazon, “That would go on for the next decade at least.”

The conventional thinking is that Chicago and other big American Cities are enjoying an urban renaissance. But Urbanist Richard Florida has said recently that the central-city boom may  be over. The Millennials, he says, are (finally) starting to have babies, and like their grandparents, these new parents are starting to hear the siren call of the suburbs.

“I mean, there are so many variables to that,” LaTrace responds. “Obviously schools are one of the biggest ones and transit is really big too. I think a lot of people who are moving to the city are going to stick around indefinitely, or be around.”

“The thing that’s kind of odd is that in a lot of ways the suburbs are cheaper,” he points out. “And now it’s like $250k you can get a one-bedroom condo in the city, so you know, the economics kind of favor the suburbs in terms of obviously having a family, but I don’t know. I really do see the sort of, the terms like new urbanism which some people love and some people love to hate, but I think we’re going to see the cities really, I think people like me are going to stick around.”

And since it was the Millennial generation that so severely rejected the suburbs, and, in particular, the suburban office environment, the actions of this cohort in the next decade or so will be critical.

“But you know,” he adds, “I think it’s just kind of a cultural shift too. I mean you think about in the 70s and 80s and the corporate office park that was where people worked. And now if you take the Kennedy out and you go past Des Plaines and Rosemont and all these sort of late modernist high-rise office buildings that were built in the 70s and 80s they all have a big For Rent or Space Available signs.”

We also talk about The North Branch redevelopment, the new Apple store on Michigan, the Obama Library,  the Old Main post Office and quite a bit more.

You can listen to this program in your earbuds on SoundCloud.

You can read transcript of the entire show here:CN Transcript Sep 14 2017

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About Ken

Ken's the host of Chicago Newsroom. A former news director, reporter and radio program host, he's also a past Vice President of the Chicago Headline Club.
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