Crafting Your Experience

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Boom, Bust and Boom Again on State Street

No commercial thoroughfare in Chicago has had more dramatic ups-and-downs than State Street. Once the city’s—and arguably the nation’s—retail mecca, the corridor gradually began to lose its edge to suburban shopping centers in the years after World War II. Conditions grew dire to the point that planners undertook a radical remake in 1979, when State Street was fashioned into an outdoor mall closed to all traffic but city busses. City officials celebrated the redesign with a grand opening ceremony that included “a polka band, dancing Dalmatians, trick unicyclists, and the Chicago Bears cheerleading squad passing out chrysanthemums.” Once the fanfare subsided, it was clear the intervention would only further depress the corridor, dampening whatever foot traffic there was. Ironically, it was another sweeping urban plan and long-range business development strategy—coupled with the return of automobile traffic—that revived Chicago’s “Great Street” for the twenty-first century. The new vision parsed the corridor into thirds: a north leg devoted to entertainment, a middle stretch for retail and a south leg to serve academic institutions. This trail traces the Loop’s premier shopping street from boom to bust and back to boom again. Audio commentary provided by Michael Edwards, President and CEO of the Chicago Loop Alliance. Photo courtesy of the Chicago Loop Alliance

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