Here's the Deal: Buying and Selling of the Great American Citiesby Ross Miller
In the heart of downtown Chicago, on a square block surrounded by major civic landmarks, there stands - absolutely nothing. Why this desolation where there should be a fabulous skyscraper, a vertical money machine? How did this three-acre chunk of prime urban real estate, at one time the hub of a down-at-heel but bustling commercial district, become a blank eyesore,… See more details below
In the heart of downtown Chicago, on a square block surrounded by major civic landmarks, there stands - absolutely nothing. Why this desolation where there should be a fabulous skyscraper, a vertical money machine? How did this three-acre chunk of prime urban real estate, at one time the hub of a down-at-heel but bustling commercial district, become a blank eyesore, unused and unprofitable? And what does this sad vacancy tell us about the fate not only of Chicago but of nearly every American city in the aftermath of the Age of Excess? Here's the Deal is urban historian Ross Miller's hard-hitting, no-holds barred answer to these troublesome questions. The redevelopment of Block 37, a richly historic site in the heart of the North Loop, was conceived by Mayor Richard J. Daley, his successors in City Hall, and an astonishingly brazen crew of schemers, speculators, pols, and operators as the way to transform an area of "urban commercial blight" - old, low-rise buildings filled with marginal if not seedy businesses - into a glittering tower that would not only be architecturally worthy of its neighbors (City Hall, Marshall Field's, the State of Illinois Building), but would, with its 2 million square feet of office space, throw off millions of tax and rental dollars annually. For twenty years, through five mayoral administrations, public officials and real estate entrepreneurs of every stripe wheeled and dealed. The three biggest developers in the Midwest were involved; the glamorous architect Helmut Jahn came up with a truly sensational design. "Here's the deal," they all told each other, while the booming eighties steamed ahead. But in the end, when the boom went bust, when credit dried up and downtown office space became the single thing the American city had too much of, then the "deal" was all there was. The ruination of Block 37 is a quintessential Chicago story, and Ross Miller tells it with the passion of a native and the blistering honesty of a classic muck
Miller (English/Univ. of Connecticut, Storrs), a longtime student of Chicago's architectural history (American Apocalypse, 1990), relates a story of how ward-heeling politics led to the unforeseen destruction of Block 37, a northside zone noted for shops, restaurants, and theaters catering to a middle class that, in the late 1960s and early '70s, began to shift from white to black. Mayor Richard Daley, Miller writes, saw in that shift a neighborhood inevitably going to seed, and in that deterioration a threat to his power. His response was to declare Block 37 a candidate for urban renewal, and he ordered his planners to make way for a mighty new complex of skyscrapers that would bring the big money back to the Loop in defiance of white flight to the suburbs. What he launched instead was a flurry of speculation, as developers bought and sold properties for vastly inflated prices, prefiguring the more notorious feeding frenzies of the 1980s. By calling for renewal, Miller argues, Daley sowed the seeds for Block 37's destruction: Where skyscrapers were to stand are now gaping holes and piles of rubble, the detritus of a real-estate boom gone bust. In telling his story, Miller sometimes falls into roman-noir prose ("Larry Levy had sold these big-time developers on this marooned strip of downtown as effortlessly as he hawked a flat slice of cheesecake at Kaplan's"). Although dealing with a cast of moneyed Jewish speculators and Irish and Italian heavies, Miller lays on the ethnic clichés a bit too thickly for comfort, and he tends to moralize needlessly throughout a story whose moral lessons lie close to the surface.
Still, this is a sobering look at the destructive combination of big money and urban politicsa story played out all too often in recent American history.
- Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
- Publication date:
- Edition description:
- 1st ed
- Product dimensions:
- 6.65(w) x 9.58(h) x 1.22(d)
Meet the Author
More from this Author
and post it to your social network
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
See all customer reviews >