2022 Urban Design Thesis Prize: Rogelio Cadena’s “How Are ‘We’ Living? Reevaluating the Chicago Boulevard System”

Drawing of a boulevard with grocery store, ice cream stall and people strolling around

by Rogelio Cadena (MAUD ’22) — Recipient of the Urban Design Thesis Prize.

At its inception, the Chicago boulevard system was heralded a civic success as it connected the city through a “magnificent chain of parks and parkways,” as noted by urban developer John S. Wright, and provided ample space for carriage transportation and leisure activities for a certain class of Chicago’s residents. But what have we today? Or in the words of notable planner Daniel H. Burnham: “How are we living?” This thesis explores the Chicago boulevard system’s past, current, and future purposes as a connection infrastructure within the city.

A dive into archival documents, along with GIS data and a set of semi-structured interviews with local nonprofit organizations in the adjacent community areas, allows us to address the boulevard system’s current underutilization, consider the city’s evolving socioeconomic and racial color lines, and recommend a process-inclusionary framework that connects and supports neighborhood and city constituents at both the macro and microscales of the city. The proposal suggests that a productive mechanism for control of Chicago’s funding of the boulevard system must be established with the explicit involvement of existing neighborhood representatives.