1 may 15  | Chicago Architecture

A Pullman Update: The Future Takes Shape With Community Planning Session

by Bill Motchan

For years, the Pullman Historic District was positioned as the next logical addition to the National Park System. It finally happened on Feb. 19 when President Obama visited the site to officially make the designation.

Now that the Pullman District is a bona fide national monument, the real work begins. It’s safe to say that Pullman will be a work in progress. Planning for the future of the site is a necessary step. On April 18, 400 people convened to see more about that process and offer their input.

“Positioning Pullman” was presented by AIA Chicago and the National Parks Conservation Association. Additional support came from the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation, Chicago Community Trust, and Alphawood Foundation.

I spoke with Richard Wilson, city design director of Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture, about the program. Wilson (AICP, AAIA) was the primary organizer of the planning session, and he spoke enthusiastically about the community feedback.

“I’ve been doing this 20 years, and I’ve seen a lot of groups,” Wilson said. “This is one of the most upbeat I’ve seen.”
Wilson said the process to get Pullman declared a national monument took nearly 40 years. Now that it’s accomplished, the planning process begins in earnest. During the mid-April “Positioning Pullman” event, those plans were presented to an eager public.

“We were able to bring some ideas to life visually, thoughts and ideas on paper, and provide technical feasibility,” Wilson said.

The sessions took place over three days, with architects, city planners and economists working hand-in-hand on four teams. They tackled significant issues like transportation, historic preservation/adaptive reuse, and community development.

One example of the interesting ideas brought forward was the possibility of using historic Pullman cars as an arrival area when visitors enter the historic district. The cars, after all, were the product of the employees who lived and worked in the district in the late 1800s.

The next step, Wilson said, is for Pullman planning team members to firm up the plans brought forward during the community sessions.

“We’re taking about four weeks, and each key member is going back to their shop to develop print-ready material and creating a highly illustrated document,” he said. It will specify what tasks various agencies could handle, and how much money it will take to get the plans accomplished.

“The Parks Service has a plan process for any new national park and they will take our ideas and recommendations into their process—that takes about a year. The state takes care of remediation on the site, like having fences taken down. Everybody’s really excited to get the lights on, and actually working at light speed for this process.”