Does the skyline matter?

    I was a news reporter long enough to see that even in remote rural villages abroad, people have learned the importance of getting your message onto TV. Rather than holding a demonstration where the local politicians will see it, and rather than holding up signs for the local politicians to see, people know to alert the media, and hold up signs for the cameras to see. That's what's important today, that's how to get your message out, and to make your case known around the world.

    So too with urban planning I fear. Today much of it is made to look good in photographs, either to sell real estate, or to put in brochures to lure tourists. And too often the way it looks in pictures is less successful than the way places and spaces actually work.

    For thirty years Chicago has been diluting its once-wondrous skyline. We've put up gargantuan pre-fab concrete monstrosities, 'homogenizing' the skyscape of Louis Sullivan, Bruce Graham, Fazlur Khan, Mies van der Rohe and others. For thirty years Chicago's city leaders seemed not to care enough about the effect a beautiful skyline can have on the eyes.

    But now they seem to care. About how it will look to the eye of the camera. They're pitching as part of their 2016 Olympics bid, a rowing competition on Lake Michigan, just east of the downtown skyline. And the cameras will be a little farther out in the lake, looking back towards the city.

    So now they understand the value of a dramatic skyline. It may not have been important enough to assure for the people who live here. But in order to attract investment, it's critical.

    Going forward, let's hope they work for the most meaningful skyline we can have. And not just for the two weeks of the Olympic images.Source URL:
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