Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Devon Avenue in Danger?

Preservation Chicago has just announced its "Chicago 7 list, highlighting buildings and neighborhoods at risk throughout the city.

Of particular interest to me personally is Devon Avenue, the Indian/Pakistani/Jewish commercial street in the city's far northern reaches. It's not very far from where I live, and I pass through fairly frequently. The street's aged buildings, thick infrastructure, and frenetic, multilingual signs give it a charm and intensity unmatched anywhere else in the city. With its dense immigrant population, a visit to Devon Avenue is often like stepping into another country.

World Fresh Market

The street is also home to some fine architecture, including several unusual buildings that straddle the line between Streamline Deco and International Style. More traditionally styled buildings abound as well, in an array of styles. All of it's buried to some extent beneath the plethora of signs that festoon the various stores and restaurants, but it's certainly worth keeping.

Gandhi Electronics

The survey rather vaguely cites a proposal for new development, but says little in the way of specifics, aside from a rather gaudy new facade (building?) intended for 2552 W. Devon. Without knowing who's planning what, it's hard to say much of anything about the issue.

Video Ace - Pakistani-Indian Movies

More generally, though, I can say this: architects and planners love to sanitize things. Devon Avenue is the kind of jumbled, messy, and furiously successful commercial district that could easily be totally screwed up by some planner looking down, God-like, from his lofty paper perch. Devon Avenue isn't broken by any stretch of the imagination, so it begs the question: who on Earth thinks it needs fixing?

Pakistani Independence Day parade

1 comment:

Katherine said...

Nice piece about Devon. I don't get up there often enough, but I saw it on one of my earliest trips to Chicago, with my parents, as a highschooler. I'm from a college town that's large and diverse enough to have ethnic groceries (certainly more now than when I lived there, though), but I'd never seen anything like that trip along Devon before, and it left quite an impression. In my mind it went on for miles, then I moved here and found that's not the case, but it's still great!

Were you saying you thought Preservation Chicago thought it needed fixing, or someone else? I went to their press conference and blogged a little about it and their choices. Their main point about Devon was that buildings are at risk from developers and/or poor maintenance, though strangely they didn't mention the huge building that got demolished last year after it burned down in 2006. I guess it's hard to get really in-depth at a short press conference, but that still struck me as an oversight.