14 apr 15  | DNA Info

Planners Dreaming Up What's Next for Pullman National Monument

by Mark Konkol

Ever since President Barack Obama designated my neighborhood a national monument, there’s been one monumental unanswered question hovering over the historic district: Now what?

You might think that after decades of studies, proposals and visions for building a better Pullman — and all those well-meaning folks who claim to know exactly what the neighborhood needs — that we’d have the future all figured out by now.

But the truth is, the national monument designation made our little forgotten outpost on the Far South Side such a big deal that what happens next has become more important than most folks down here could have ever imagined.

Pullman’s days as a cute historic district with a pretty cool house tour are officially over. Now, the neighborhood has a shot to be a national model for inner-city renewal, creative public transportation and urban tourism that has the attention of architects and city planners from across the country.

And for that, the National Park Conservation Association and the American Institute of Architects have rounded up some of the nation’s most prominent architects, economists, transportation gurus and historic preservationists for a three-day brainstorming session aimed on creative ways to capitalize on the neighborhood’s new national status.

Starting Thursday, about 40 professionals who know a thing or two about making big plans for urban areas will gather in Pullman to come up with plans for everything from renovating Metra stations and restoring historic ruins to coming up with a blueprint for bolstering local business and safer ways to walk across 111th Street.

“We want to visualize what Pullman might look like in 10 years with the influence of the national monument designation,”  said Lynn McClure, the conservation association's Midwest senior director.

She said since Pullman became a national monument, "a lot of people have been working together. We thought it would be good to keep the energy going and get some good things planned that can be delivered for Pullman as we go forward.”

The so-called “collaborative ideas workshop” will be led by Chicagoan Richard Wilson — the noted architect and urban planner who has helped develop the central area plan for Downtown Chicago, designed the Chicago Riverwalk, developed transit-centric development plans in Humboldt Park, Pilsen and Little Village and even led planning efforts to double the size of the business district in Beijing, China.

“This isn’t about documenting the history of Pullman or creating a Word document about what would be nice to see out there. It’s about picking up a pencil, thinking things through, creating something that the community and government agencies can use to promote and move the project forward,” Wilson said.

“This is the perfect opportunity to think bigger … and this is the perfect group to have a great discussion connecting all the dots in the larger context. People in Pullman have great local expertise, and they’re involved. At the same time there’s great experience from a different community [of planners] from around the U.S. and the world. I’m honored to be given the chance to think things through and share our ideas for the community.”

After a Thursday night community meeting at Greenstone Church, planners will spend Friday focusing on ways to improve transportation options, stimulate community development, create a better visitor experience and revitalize the local economy with historic preservation in mind.

Wilson and his team already is hard at work at a computerized 3-D map that would show Pullman’s development from 1869 to the present that planners can use to better visualize what the neighborhood might look like in the future.

“Honestly, we’re still working on it, but we’ve got a little team together, and the idea is to be able to see what Pullman was, what it is today, and eventually, a full idea of what a buildout would look like in the future,” Wilson said. “It’s something in the works that we hope to develop more in the workshop.”

On Saturday, Wilson and the collection of urban planners are set to show off their ideas during an open house at the Pullman factory site from noon to 3 p.m.

“There’s so much cool stuff about Pullman that people might not know about: It’s got the only Wal-Mart with a green roof; there’s a solar farm in West Pullman; and the new Method [soap] factory has a wind turbine and a crazy greenhouse on the roof,” Wilson said. “It makes you wonder if Pullman isn’t one of Chicago’s hot neighborhoods, and as people get a closer look, it could be a keynote in an entire Chicago South Side renaissance.”