I’ve been involved in a public streetscape design project through the Chicago Public Art Group for Devon Avenue. Devon is reputed to be the ‘Little India’ of Chicago with residential and business communities settled here. The goal was to work with urban designers, architects, engineers, City department of transport, the Alderman’s office and community to beautify the neighborhood through customized design. The entire project is scheduled through to 2020 but the detailed Phase1 of the proposal can now be found on the alderman’s website.
The idea was to first come up with three themes, break them up into concepts and then build them into design. The final goal was to have a few designs for Gateway identifiers, stamps on the street, seating pods and (budget permitting) some sculptures. The design had to be made keeping in mind cost-space considerations, outdoor conditions, vandalism and artwork safety and longevity.
The 3 broad themes I built upon were History as built environment, Celebrating traditions and Unity in Diversity. Once you look closer, Devon starts unfolding as so much more than ‘Little India’. It has many other south Asian communities- Bangladeshis, Pakistanis and other Jewish, Russian and Croatian communities here too. The goal was to have the design traditional in concept, include all communities and unite Devon instead of dividing it further. The colors that I wanted were rich jewel tones to complement the street and not add to the cacophony. I also wanted to link existing architecture to the new streetscape design. After much brainstorming, sketching, presentation preparation, meetings, the team made presentations to the alderman and community.
The enhancements are so much more than just aesthetic- there is focus towards place making and detailed attention given to existing issues and how they can be solved. Of course, there are a lot of naysayers who are dissatisfied about everything and a few people who ask mundane and silly questions- but coming from Mumbai where no one cares about anything but how to make a buck- it was great to work with government officials who actually seem to care about the community.
For me personally, it has been a great experience in learning how to work harmoniously in a group and how aesthetic enhancements can create pride in a community.