Between the late 1950s and the 1980s, Chicago, like many other American cities, lived an extended period of "urban crisis" characterized, among others, by the combined effects of suburbanization and deindustrialization, resulting in the a shrinking tax base decline of the central city as center for civic life. By the late 1960s, the planning strategies of the immediate post-war period, defined by large urban renewal projects, combined with modern inner city public housing complexes, a focus on transportation, and functional segregation, were considered ineffective or even deleterious. City planners, consultants, corporate leaders, architects, and social scientists, recognizing urban change, engaged in a rich debate about the new form and strategies for inner city urban development, responding to private- and public-oriented concerns for economic sustainability, fiscal health and quality of life of the central business district and adjacent neighborhoods. In this context, architecture played several roles: symbolic, speculative, moral, functional and technical, always associated with larger planning schemes. These debates came to a head in the the plans for the central area neighborhoods, formulated largely by an association of central area business leaders, in particular the South Loop: an entire new neighborhood to be formed according to new guidelines on the abandoned railroad at the frayed southern edges of the business district. River City (1968-1986) emerges in this context as a bold, in some aspects visionary, imagination for the future of the South Loop and, by extension, the central city. Its history reflects the interdisciplinary, inter-institutional debates and the slow, nuanced shift away from the model of architecture and planning of the 1950s and 1960s, or "modernism", into the 1970s and 1980s. The original project, designed between 1968 and 1973, represented the culmination of the urbanistic vision of Chicago-based architect Bertrand Goldberg of Marina City (1959-1967) fame. River City would be a "city-within-a-city" comprising several residential tower triads on a park-like site by the lake, occupying 45 acres - with hopes of extending into the entire railroad site. In design as well as in process the architect sought to combine the functions of land development, architecture, urban planning, and even policy-making, while theorizing it in terms of recent concepts in social sciences and urban studies. Crucial to his systematic understanding of a well-functioning, lively city was density, mixed-use, interconnectivity, and a connection to certain central landscape elements - here, the river. In 1973, when it was submitted for zoning approval, the project was rejected in a decision that echoed ongoing discussions about the adequate height, density, and programme for residential developments and inner city neighborhoods in general. The project was significantly altered and only partially realized, resulting in the 450-unit development existing today. The second iteration reveals yet other popular tropes of architectural and urbanistic developments at the time, all directed at revitalizing the American urban core, such as the interior street or atrium, enclosed park, and emphasis on amenities. The building we can see today bears witness, in its form, to the transformations in the debate about urban form and development in Chicago and the United States in the post-war period. This paper tells the history of River City in relation to its context in Chicago's urban history, with a focus on contemporaneous planning initiatives, and more broadly the history of post-war American cities and of architectural debates about the city from the 1960s forward. It relies on research at the Bertrand Goldberg Archives at the Art Institute of Chicago, the Chicago History Museum's research collections, the Chicago Tribune and Sun-Times archives, and the Skidmore, Owings and Merrill archives, in addition to conversations with current owners and managers at River City. I consider the work to be still in progress and plan to edit and expand the paper in the next days and weeks.




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