August 15th, 2006 10:34 PM
Not a building, but a pretty impressive structure to climb around on anyway: this old length of elevated rail line had caught my eye a few times, but I always seemed to forget about it later. Construction on the east side of Canal below Roosevelt has pretty much finished, and the new sidewalk drops straight onto the freshly-bladed ground where trucks had been parked, leaving the cut exposed and access easier than ever.
Still, I wasn't exactly skipping up the set of ladders, Josephine following (in sandals!?). It wouldn't have been the worst fall, but the stage up to the top of the tracks was just a makeshift ladder perched on the ledge, cracks forming around its legs as it took my weight. The combination of height and tresspassing was enough to put that old frisson back in the bones, though we weren't very likely to get called out either--no one seems to care what you climb on in Chicago.
It was real nice up there around sunset, walking down track over the Metra yard towards the river, looking north to the Loop. The length we walked is a now abandoned spur that joins a still somewhat used line striking west over 90/94, above Canal St, over the river and into the brownlands--about 100 acres of old train yard (and what else?) that now lies empty, reclaimed by weeds. A new Target borders the brownlands to the North, and condos crowd in from the east--this is primo Chicago land that would have been swallowed by the forces of loopification long ago if not for.. what? Some peculiarly indeterminate status has allowed this space to lie fallow, reclaimed only by plants, birds, rabits, and a few lean-tos. I've looked long into the brownlands but never crossed the fence--my next destination.
I'd guess there are also still untold miles of old track and access (lots of it elevated) left to walk in Chicago, where the bloom of skeletal iron infrastructure perdures decades on, managed mostly by forgetting (corrosion as trauma, new condos as nepethes). But how long will it be left alone? A Reader article from last week suggests that the city is about to turn a similar stretch of track up Milwaukee into a park--"In 2004 the planning commission adopted the Logan Square Open Space Plan, which includes a proposal for the Bloomingdale Trail, an elevated park and car-free route." The High Line in Chelsea, NYC is headed the same way, with superstar architects and tens of millions of dollars thrown in. Maybe it'll become the next trend in gentrification-cum-preservation, like other natural features in the country that have been smothered under care of the National Park Service--at once loved to death and cultivated for maximum tourist throughput. Or maybe they'll strike a balance, and leave some rust and weeds.
plants IDed on or under the tracks:
-yellow toadflax (look like miniature snapdragons)
-queen anne's lace (wild carrot)